The most surprising thing about the new buddy action-comedy Central Intelligence is the sight of Kevin Hart playing straight man to another actor's antics. In previous comedies, Hart has been the pint-sized, fast-talking dynamo at the center of the action. But in Central Intelligence, he's initially subdued and reactive as Calvin Joyner, an accountant whose no-drama life is shaken up by the sudden reappearance of his old school pal Robert Whierdicht (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), a former fat kid who, after years of being mercilessly bullied, has reinvented himself as a comically buff rogue CIA agent named Bob Stone.
Hart might not be his usual motormouth, but he's still got that edge of cynicism and snark: There's always been a kind of veiled contempt in his performances. And this time, playing a former high-school hotshot whose life hasn't turned out the way he expected, he gets not only some real motivation to put behind that subtle bitterness, but a chance to develop it over the course of a film. The Rock playfully undercuts his persona as well: Despite being a lethal killer drowning in his own muscles, Bob Stone is also a sincere, wide-eyed normie fond of fanny packs, unicorns and Molly Ringwald movies.
The confrontations and fights and chases in Central Intelligence are incoherent and slapdash as action scenes, but they're often hilarious as comic set pieces. Director Rawson Marshall Thurber understands that the use of space is crucial to physical comedy: He'll cleverly divert our attention to one part of the frame, then surprise with a sight gag elsewhere in the shot.