The story follows a one-time bullied geek, Bob (Dwayne Johnson), who grew up to be a lethal CIA agent, coming home for his high school reunion. Claiming to be on a top-secret case, Bob enlists the help of former “big man on campus,” Calvin (Kevin Hart), now an accountant who misses his glory days. But before the staid numbers-cruncher realizes what he’s getting into, it’s too late to get out, as his increasingly unpredictable new friend drags him through a world of shoot-outs, double-crosses and espionage that could get them both killed in more ways than Calvin can count.
Hiding beneath all the piercing gunfire, the deep hollowed thuds of punches, the fiercely urgent car chases and the rapid-fire, spur-of-the-moment jokes, 'Central Intelligence' arrives with several surprises, starting with the fact that I enjoyed a Kevin Hart movie. In the last four years since his career suddenly ballooned into A-list status, none of Hart's comedies have impressed or been remotely memorable because they mostly involve the exact same shtick. A short, overly-confident loudmouth who screams wisecracks for self-defense and suddenly turns into a shrieking, bumbling scaredy-cat when a situation becomes threatening. With Will Ferrell seeming like a lumbering giant next to Hart, 'Get Hard' came close in allowing audiences to see the actor hiding underneath the clown. And here, opposite a surprisingly hilarious Dwayne Johnson, the comedian demonstrates he can actually act, though he still sadly relies on screaming hysteria fits for producing laughter on various occasions. For once, he plays the calm, sensible straight man Calvin Joyner without seeming artificial, which then justifies his frenzied panic screams when things become overwhelmingly dangerous. Which they do often.
Mr. Hart graciously passes the clownish buffoonery torch to Johnson, who, like Ferrell, towers over his costar, which serves as the source of various jokes throughout. During one rescue scene inside an office, Johnson, like some mythological gladiator hero, pushes a panicking Hart in a canvas mail cart like a stroller. Part of the joke is the intimidatingly huge star of the 'Fast & Furious' franchise wearing a gaudy yellow T-shirt and cargo shorts during the mayhem while completely ignoring his friend's pleas to stop. But the real payoff comes moments later when, disguised as a marriage counselor in a sweater vest, the retired professional wrestler cradles the noticeably smaller Hart like a baby. Well planned and timed gags such as this keep the movie from losing momentum, like little bread crumbs subtly dropped at various spots and recalled later for a bigger and funnier punch line. A favorite highlight is an unexpected cameo playing the role of Darla McGuckian, a high school crush mentioned only a few times but produces one of the best laughs during the denouement. Other such nuggets are strewn throughout to keep audiences on their toes.
Best of all, and arguably the primary reason for even watching this absurd comedy, is Johnson as Robbie Wheirdicht, aka Bob Stone. The character is introduced in the opening moments alone in the boy's shower dancing to En Vogue, Johnson's face digitally placed on an overweight body. But the laughs quickly turn into humiliation when another teen and his friends carry the naked Robbie into a senior assembly, permanently scarring him. Twenty years later, he's miraculously transformed into a muscular giant who earnestly loves unicorns and sports a fanny pack. Proudly revealing his doofus side, Johnson embraces this delightful lug with sincere enthusiasm that never seems satirical or over-the-top. Meanwhile, Hart shows he can be just as funny as a married accountant who was once the most popular kid in high school but feels his life plateaued and whooshing downhill. The two are brought together by a school reunion coinciding with Stone's CIA investigation to stop a terrorist from selling satellite codes. While chased by 'The Office' star Amy Ryan, it's Johnson's seeming the incompetent dweeb that generates much of the humor, and Hart receives the excitement his midlife crisis begged for.
But in spite of all this, 'Central Intelligence' is not without some questionable blunders in its reevaluation of life after high school. 'Dodgeball' and 'We're the Millers' director Rawson Marshall Thurber does great in maintaining an energetic pace and taking advantage of the animated chemistry between the two stars, allowing them to simply play off one another. But there is also something a bit too routine and familiar, which is not surprising since this is standard odd-couple buddy-cop formula. The hilarious, off-the-cuff banter can't hide the movie's predictability — Johnson will prove his innocence, Hart will discover a new career and the villain is known the moment he appears on screen. However, Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen's script make up for this by injecting the plot with one final surprise. Although brave to profess his love of unicorns and 'Sixteen Candles' while remaining cool under pressure, Johnson's Robbie is still the traumatized and bullied fat kid of high school struggling to be the confident person inside as he appears on the outside. It's this "I hate bullies" theme and Johnson's performance to overcome his fears that ultimately makes this comedy so endearingly charming.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'Central Intelligence' to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for an UltraViolet Digital Copy and glossy slipcover. At the moment, we are unable to verify the size of the content, but the triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc. At startup, the disc goes straight to a static menu and music. At the main menu, viewers can choose between the 107-minute theatrical version or the 116-minute unrated cut, which features adult language and a few, minor additional scenes.
The espionage comedy snoops around Ultra HD Blu-ray with a fairly strong and generally satisfying HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10, but it doesn't really offer a significant jump over its Blu-ray counterpart. Don't get me wrong, the highly-detailed 4K video is noticeably sharper with clean, defined lines in buildings, furniture and the clothing. Shot on the Arri Alexa XT digital cameras with a max resolution of around 3K, facial complexions are most impressive, as close-ups of Kevin Hart reveal the tiniest blemish and scar while Dwayne Johnson is finally starting to show winkles when he's not smiling. Viewers can plainly make out individual hairs in Hart's five o'clock shadow and see the threading in Johnson's silly Goodwill shirts and the subtle creases in his fanny pack from age. In terms of resolution, the 2160p picture is easily the winner.
However, the 4K presentation doesn't offer much of an upgrade from the Blu-ray in other, more important areas. Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, contrast is pretty average compared to other UHD titles, though it is noticeably brighter and whites are more intense than the BD. Specular highlights are a bit more glowing as well, giving the edges of cars and buildings a nice shimmer. But there are several instances of blooming throughout, particularly in the clouds, which almost always lack any appreciable detailing. Brightness is in the same boat, except the video show plenty of differences between the various shades. The issue is simply with the fact that black levels could be a tad deeper and darker.
Finally, Barry Peterson's cinematography doesn't appear to really take advantage of the wider color gamut, or perhaps, producers didn't really bother with color grading the source for this UHD. In either case, the palette doesn't really pop and look any more impressive. Granted, yellows and other secondary hues are more true to life, but there doesn't appear to be much variety throughout the movie. On the other hand, primaries are a tad more dazzling, though not by any significant means. Although I would give the edge to this 4K presentation of 'Central Intelligence,' the standard Blu-ray version is probably more than enough for fans of the movie.
The buddy-cop blockbuster comes out of hiding with a more impressive, near-reference DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that makes great use of the entire soundscape. The rears are continuously employed throughout the movie's runtime. During action sequences, cars zoom from the sides and into the screen, or bullets flawlessly whizz from one speaker to the next. Quieter moments continue delivering an immersive soundfield with the subtle noises of traffic in the distance or the crowded energy of people chatting and typing inside an office. It makes for an amusing watch while adding a layered, spirited feel to the visuals.
Holding the lossless mix from a perfect score is a somewhat ordinary, if not middling, low-end that doesn't really standout in any impressive way or provide much weight to the action or certain song selections. That's not to say, the design doesn't come with bass because it does and a few moments dig just below the mid-bass. Only, what little we hear isn't the sort of palpable wallop or with the decibels one would expect from an action movie (bass chart).
On the other hand, imaging feels spacious and expansive with appreciable clarity and detailing while delivering excellent vocals in the center. But sadly, the lossless mix comes with a few caveats worth noting. There are several instances of clipping in the upper ranges, making many of the action sequences ear-piercingly bright, which is somewhat distracting.
Hiding beneath the gunfire, the punches, the car chases and the rapid-fire jokes, 'Central Intelligence' arrives with several surprises, most notably Dwayne Johnson's performance as an insecure but oddly confident secret agent. Costarring Kevin Hart playing the straight man to Johnson's nerdy clown, the movie is the standard buddy-cop flick with some intelligence.
This Ultra HD Blu-ray arrives with a strong 4K video presentation, but unfortunately, it also doesn't offer much of an upgrade over its Blu-ray counterpart, in spite of delivering an otherwise satisfying picture quality. On the plus side, the audio presentation is excellent, accompanied by a small collection of supplements, making the overall package worth checking out for fans and early adopters.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.