During the last pep rally of the school year, student body president and star athlete Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is in the midst of his final address when the doors to the locker room are flung open and a group of sniggering jocks toss a naked, overweight kid onto the basketball court. It’s a hoot to everyone except Calvin, who immediately strips off his letter jacket and hands it over, allowing the poor guy to cover himself as he flees in shame.
It’s the sort of basic human kindness that many of us wouldn’t even think twice about, but Calvin has no idea just how pivotal this moment will become. 20 years later, Calvin is married to his high-school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) and working a dead-end job at an accounting firm. Long gone are his days of glory when he was voted Most Likely to Succeed, and despite his wife’s enthusiasm the last thing Calvin wants to do is attend his class reunion, where he’ll be forced to compare himself to his former schoolmates.
With the event looming ever closer, Calvin receives a Facebook message from Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson). It’s not a name he recognizes at first, but Bob turns out to be the same kid Calvin tried to help during that fateful pep rally. The shaved head and chiseled physique may be new, but not much else has changed, as evidenced by the fanny pack and T-shirt Bob sports, the latter of which features a unicorn flying over a rainbow. “I’m big into the ‘corns,” he tells Calvin, without a trace of irony.
Aside from being a mythical creature enthusiast, Bob is also a CIA agent, and he needs Calvin’s accounting skills to help him track the black market sale of some top-secret information. But hours after accessing a list of offshore accounts, Calvin receives a visit from Agent Harris (Amy Ryan), who claims that Bob has gone rogue after murdering his former partner, and is trying to sell the stolen data himself. Surely, this lovable goofball that quotes Twilight and hates bullies can’t be a cold-blooded psychopath… right?
Working from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, Central Intelligence director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s genius decision to have both Johnson and Hart play against type works wonders. As the straight man, Hart’s bewildered expressions are almost as funny as Johnson’s earnest conversations about Sixteen Candles and his insistence on showering his former classmate with hugs. Audiences have grown accustomed to The Rock’s action movie persona, but many will be exposed to his comedic chops for the first time – and rest assured, the big guy is bringing his “A” game.
Not everything about Central Intelligence works, however. The paint-by-numbers plot is full of “twists” that aren’t likely to surprise anyone that’s seen a spy movie in the past 20 years, and the action scenes are far less exciting than we might expect from a buddy cop flick. But as consistently funny as its mismatched leading men are, we can let these sort of things slide, because there’s just something inherently watchable about The Rock. Especially when he’s squeezing himself into a set of Hart’s pajamas.