Did anyone expect Jeff Daniels to swipe scenes from Jim Carrey in “Dumb and Dumber?” Daniels was the serious actor, while Carrey’s rubbery mug made him the industry’s go-to comic superstar.
Something similar happens in “Central Intelligence,” Hollywood’s latest riff on the mismatched buddy comedy. Kevin Hart is the funny guy, the stand-up who sells out arenas and makes even clunkers like “The Wedding Ringer” worth a look.
So why is he occasionally outclassed by Dwayne Johnson, the ex-wrestler who once used an arched eyebrow to convey emotion?
It’s a sign of just how far Johnson -- don’t call him The Rock -- has evolved in a very short time.
Hart stars as Calvin, a milquetoast accountant who feels his life hasn’t lived up to its potential. Along comes Bob Stone (Johnson), the “fat kid” from high school who now looks like the “After” picture from a Gold’s Gym ad.
He’s with the CIA and needs Calvin’s help. Or is he the target of a CIA operation, a dangerous man who must be stopped at all costs?
The stakes are as thin as you might expect from a formulaic comedy like this. Take a motor-mouthed comic who could only tower over Davy Jones, and pair him with a man mountain who probably eats dumbbells for breakfast.
Do you really need an airtight plot?
The visual sight gags are as rich as you might imagine, but it’s only part of what makes “Central Intelligence” a hoot. Bob Stone carries the weight of his old self. He may look massive, but inside he’s still needy and alone.
Johnson plays those qualities well, managing to look wounded even though he could wipe out a small army by flexing his biceps. The actor’s comic timing ranges from good to priceless, and the script gives him plenty of chances to show that off.
Most importantly, Johnson captures his character’s duality without making it look like a con.
There’s always a moment in a Hart film where even his biggest fans plead with the comic actor . Stop. With. All. The. Mugging.
Those moments are fleeting in “Central Intelligence.” Why? You don’t have to burn so many calories when your tag team partner can carry the load. Their crackerjack chemistry also salvages some mediocre moments.
FAST FACT: Kevin Hart starred in the 2004 sitcom “The Big House” on ABC. He played a pampered young man who ends up living with his blue-collar relatives. It lasted six episodes.
The film’s concept offers the obvious complications. The bully beatdowns. The trouble behind Calvin’s seemingly solid marriage. The inevitable high school reunion. It’s also longer than it should be, playing on our empathy for the main characters in a way that feels gently exploitative.
Kudos to Jason Bateman, who arrives mid-film as a former bully who hasn’t exactly seen the light. Add a perfectly executed cameo from a “lady” Ghostbuster, sure to bring some positive buzz to that project, and you have a comedy with far more hits than misses.
The movie even slips in a pro-family message that may surprise some movie goers.
“Central Intelligence” could be the first of many Hart/Johnson pairings, either in the form of a sequel or stand-along project.
Bring ’em on.
IF YOU LIKED … ‘Central Intelligence,’ give the 1988 romp “Midnight Run” a look. It’s one of that decade’s best buddy comedies.
7 out of 10
“Weiner” began as a comeback story and ended up a profile in total humiliation.
That isn’t the biggest takeaway from the documentary capturing Congressman Anthony Weiner’s precipitous fall from grace. It’s a damning portrait of modern journalism, the kind that reminds you why so many people don’t believe reporters.
They trust their collective gut. And they’re right.
That “gut” proved solid when it came to Weiner, too.
“Weiner” began as a classic American comeback yarn. The flamboyant New York liberal resigned following a sexting scandal that gave late night comics reams of material.
He was down but not out. We love giving famous people a second chance, so long as they use it wisely.
So when Weiner decided to run for New York City mayor the odds weren’t stacked against him. He had talent, moxie and name recognition -- for better or worse.
He also had a film crew ready to capture his comeback saga. Only real life scripted something far different.
As the film shows, he started out with a burst of enthusiasm and strong poll numbers. And then more salacious texts came to light. Any news junkie knows the rest of the story.
What “Weiner” reveals is how the congressman handled that revelation. More importantly, we watch his wife, Huma Abedin, transform from supportive spouse into a coiled portrait of defeat. It’s a fascinating relationship that begs for more direct interrogation.
Only directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg opt for a fly on the wall approach, which is ultimately wise. Their cameras capture plenty as is, from Weiner’s jovial public persona to unguarded moments when he simply couldn’t corral his tongue.
It’s what New Yorkers witnessed during his failed career revival. A man who, when the pressure got intense, didn’t have the composure needed to run a campaign. Let alone the Big Apple.
They voted accordingly.
FAST FACT: Weiner’s staff gave Sydney Leathers, a woman the congressman exchanged sexual social media messages with, a colorful nickname. They called her Pineapple, a name used repeatedly in the waning moments of “Weiner.”
We also get a close-up look at how the press treated him. It wasn’t pretty.
Reporters pounced with personal queries. Pressed him on the state of his marriage. Barged into his life without a modicum of grace.
It was like every reporter worked for TMZ.
They smelled blood, ratings and newsstand sales. And they weren’t about to let common decency get in the way.
You can’t blame a scribe for pressing Weiner on the sexting scandal and its aftermath. They did much more, though.They routinely ignored the issues that matter to voters most.
Where was that tenacity during the seven-plus years of the Obama White House? Why did it take conservative-led investigations before the line of skeletons in Hillary Clinton’s closet came marching out, Conga style?
Why couldn’t reporters hound Team Obama about the ObamaCare train wreck then … or now? How does Hillary Clinton get to skate on so many scandals then … and now?
The media salivated over Weiner’s scandal. Why?
It was about sex, for starters. It also didn’t impact New York’s political scene. No matter what happened, a Democrat would eventually take the oath of office.
So crushing Weiner generated headlines and ratings, but didn’t hurt the liberal agenda in the end. And that was all it took to take Weiner down.
Of course, he helped.
That candid admission in the film’s waning moments will almost make you feel sorry for Weiner.
The documentary gets bogged down in minor campaign details, making its modest running time feel padded.
And where is one of the liveliest moments of Weiner’s professional life? Andrew Breitbart, who helped expose Weiner’s sexting escapades while some press outlets kept their distance, famously commandeered a Weiner press conference.
The moment is left on the cutting room floor. Just like Weiner’s future political prospects.
7 out of 10