"Central Intelligence" could have been another mindless action-comedy, but instead, critics are praising the film as "comedy gold," "smarter than you might expect" and hail Dwayne Johnson's performance in particular.
"Johnson proves his comic chops are as strong as his ab crunches, and his chemistry with Hart is as explosive as the inevitable pyrotechnics," writes Sean P. Means from The Salt Lake Tribune.
"Hart and Johnson -- or, as the film's advertising calls them, 'a little Hart and a big Johnson' -- are well matched to their 'Central Intelligence' roles," says TheWrap's film critic Sam Adams.
"Central Intelligence" is about a man named Calvin (Hart) whose life didn't turn out the way he had anticipated. Enter Bob Stone (Johnson), Calvin's once-bullied high school classmate turned CIA agent. Bob enlists Calvin to help him on a top-secret mission, causing all sorts of ruckus.
The comedy currently has a score of 65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. At the Thursday previews, "Central Intelligence" grossed $1.84 million -- an impressive start.
See 11 of the best reviews below.
Bilge Ebiri, Village Voice:
"The real danger with these types of buddy comedies is the over-reliance on predictable gags and comic tics. Audiences want to see Kevin Hart being Kevin Hart, and they want to see the Rock being the Rock, but they don't want to be too disturbed or challenged. So within that framework, a smart director has to figure out how to play with the elements, to bring spontaneity and surprise without completely upending expectations. 'Central Intelligence' won't blow you out of the theater, but you might be surprised at how well it works -- how genuinely funny it is -- given the familiarity of this concept.
Mike McGranaghan, Aisle Seat:
"'Central Intelligence' additionally contains two killer cameos from much-loved actors, both of whom come in and slay during their short screen time. Still, this show belongs to Hart and Johnson - two immensely likable performers who understand that teamwork is essential to making good comedy. The espionage story is weak. The story of the unlikely friendship that develops between Calvin and Bob, on the other hand, makes for two hours of pure, wonderfully silly entertainment."
Sean P. Means, The Salt Lake Tribune:
"Director Rawson Marshall Thurber ('We're the Millers'), who rewrote the script by 'Mindy Project' writers Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, upends the comedy potential with one sly decision: making Hart's Calvin the straight-man to Johnson's slightly unhinged Bob. Johnson proves his comic chops are as strong as his ab crunches, and his chemistry with Hart is as explosive as the inevitable pyrotechnics."
Andy Graham, The Detroit News:
"The script by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and director Rawson Marshall Thurber ('We're the Millers') lets Johnson flex his comedic muscles more than any previous role. And Johnson is eager to please, delivering every line like he woke up early that day and was the first person on set ready to go when cameras rolled. He beams. 'Central Intelligence' otherwise boils down to base-level hijinks with a stock anti-bullying message (and a handful of decent cameos). But Johnson brings the funny. Underneath all that muscle, a comedy star is wrestling to get out, and he's finally emerged."
Tirdad Derakhshani, The Philadelphia Inquirer:
"There is one other difference: 'Central Intelligence' is actually funny. For one thing, 'Central Intelligence' is shot from a script that contains actual dialogue rather than stage directions for endless gun fights and sex scenes. And its humor isn't mass-produced and store-bought but seriously idiosyncratic - boy, is it weird!"
Travis Hopson, Examiner:
"'Central Intelligence' puts this unlikely pair together and the result is comedy gold that totally flips the typical Hart formula. Some may not believe this but Johnson is one of the best actors working today. Period. Is there anything he's proven incapable of? His performance in 'Central Intelligence' calls him to steal the spotlight away from Hart, no small feat, by playing a character that is both physically intimidating and emotionally vulnerable like a bullied schoolkid."
Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times:
"'Central Intelligence' is dumb in all the right ways, and also a bit smarter than you might expect. It jams together two frequently incompatible Hollywood modes -- the comedy and the action movie -- and somehow doesn't wind up feeling like an oil-and-water exercise."
Joey Nolfi, Entertainment Weekly:
"'Central Intelligence,' however, despite featuring explosions, car chases, shoot-outs, and muscle shirts, explores a softer, vulnerable side of the 44-year old. Johnson gives a surprisingly varied performance, one which requires an obvious (ableit broad) range to come alive beneath the shallow layers of comedic stunts and kinetic action. While not necessarily a diamond-in-the-rough itself, 'Central Intelligence' proves that Johnson has always been at the center of his own ring, in more ways than one. It just took the rest of us (and Hollywood) a little longer to notice."
Rafer Guzman, Newsday:
"Hart and Johnson make a terrific team, though it's the latter who really shines in this action-comedy. Fun cameos ice the cake."
Sara Stewart, New York Post:
"Ultimately, it's all background noise; we're here for the Johnson and Hart show, and they deliver. But it's the Rock who's the real heart of this film, putting a chiseled face on the notion that bullying scars last long after school's out."
Scott Mendelson, Forbes:
"Thurber isn't the world's best action director, and the film has two arguably unnecessary extended epilogues, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed myself. 'Central Intelligence' isn't anything more than it proclaims to be, but it is unquestionably successful in its particular goals. In a summer of somewhat overburdening would-be blockbusters and franchise installments, 'Central Intelligence' is a breath of star-powered fresh air."