Queasy humour

The action in Central Intelligence is engaging, but the scenes where the leads' bad experiences are played for comedic effect fail to bring on the laughs

Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson (both above) in Central Intelligence.
Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson (both above) in Central Intelligence. PHOTO: UIP



108 minutes/Opens today/**

The story: Nerd Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) is bullied in high school and during one particularly traumatic incident of public humiliation, his only friend turns out to be sports hero Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart). Years later, Bob, now a secret agent, inserts himself into Calvin's humdrum life.

It would be fine if this was a straightforward action comedy starring two of filmdom's biggest properties, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.

But someone got the idea that this story needed a message of overcoming childhood trauma.

So what would otherwise be a retread of stuff Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker did in the Rush Hour series (1998-2007), or what any number of competent-guy-saddled- with-dumb-guy action comedies try to do, is now a story of personal growth.

Bob (Johnson, in computer- enhanced make-up), an obese teen, suffers a moment of supreme humiliation at the hands of high- school bullies. He grows up to be a superspy who enlists the help of former school hero Calvin (Hart), now a dowdy accountant and the butt of office jokes.

The action bits are engaging, but the story fails to come to grips with where the humour is supposed to lie.

Is the obese Bob meant to be funny? If this is a story about overcoming the trauma of bullying, then why is Bob's agony in high school portrayed as comedic?

When older Bob has post- traumatic flashbacks and his face is twisted in pain, resulting in an outburst of violence, are moviegoers supposed to chortle?

Are accountants inherently sad and pathetic and thus worthy of amused derision?

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber (We're The Millers, 2013) thinks moviegoers should be rocking with laughter.

For many, the primary emotion might be queasiness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Queasy humour'. Print Edition | Subscribe