Nearly 20 years to the day since the release of The Cable Guy, we finally have a protagonist-antagonist to rival Jim Carrey’s “Chip” Douglas in indefinable repellence. But whereas the Ben Stiller-directed film had the audacity to stick with its unpleasantly dark notions right up through the jaded end, Central Intelligence hides itself in crowd-pleaser drag throughout. If the end result is that it’ll probably turn off a lot fewer people than The Cable Guy, odds are considerably lower that it’ll ever one day emerge as a cult classic.
In an opening that was undoubtedly conceived in an attempt to net some viral video traction early in the promotional process, a flashback shows Dwayne Johnson via sub-Nutty Professor CGI as a tubby high school loser who idolizes Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart), the back-flipping homecoming king. Two decades later, Calvin’s life hasn’t quite lived up to the “most likely to succeed” billing. With the reunion looming, Calvin accepts a friend request from a stranger named Bob Stone, who turns out to be the same kid who was once the fat, male Carrie White of the class of 1996. Only now he’s a mountain of a man who loves unicorns, fanny packs, and, evidently, Calvin Joyner. He instantly integrates himself into Calvin’s life and, just like that, C.I.A. agents are swarming in Calvin’s home and office looking for the elusive Stone, an agent they say has gone rogue, killed his partner, and plans on selling U.S. security secrets.
Fans of The Cable Guy point to Carrey’s Jerry Lewis-esque willingness to embrace the darker aspects of his comic persona and reach some truly uncomfortable places. To his credit, Johnson goes about as far with the character as Central Intelligence will allow. If anyone in the audience has any doubt as to Stone’s allegiances, it’s because Johnson proves surprisingly comfortable shouldering in on Uzo Aduba territory.
Stone comes off as a maniacal, needy, meathead warrior who so determinedly can’t believe BMOC Calvin is spending time with him that he never notices Calvin doesn’t want to spend any time with him. (The film slips in the requisite handful of moments where the googly-eyed Stone’s sexual orientation is even under suspicion, still evidently the surest shortcut to unease.) Try imagining any other comparable slab of muscle who could’ve been alternately cast in the role to see how much more cheap and obvious the script’s “is he or isn’t he?” subterfuge would’ve seemed under director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s heavy hand. (You don’t cast Amy Ryan as a figure of authority without intending to eventually reverse the viewer’s loyalties.) It’s just a pity that no one else involved in the making of the film had Johnson’s sly intuition.