Kevin Hart

Central Intelligence (2016)

As someone who peaked in high school, I can definitely relate to Calvin Joyner, Kevin Hart’s character in the high voltage buddy comedy, Central Intelligence. In the flashback that opens the movie, Calvin is on top of his teenage world. He’s got his letterman’s jacket and a captive high school audience, and as he speaks hopefully about the future, we know things can only go up.

Flash forward twenty years – and OMG, my twenty year high school reunion is next year! I mean, Calvin is a middling account. Having achieved zero great things, outside of maintaining a steady, well paying job, Calvin doesn’t feel like facing up to his former classmates at his upcoming reunion. His wife and high school girlfriend, Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), wants to attend, but they may need to work on their marriage first.

It’s at this low point that Dwayne Johnson zips in, brandishing a tight unicorn shirt and opinions on Molly Ringwald movies. Robbie Weirdicht is another one of Calvin’s high school classmates, but unlike the star athlete, Robbie was an overweight outcast who was mercilessly bullied. During one especially humiliating incident, Calvin was the lone person who showed Robbie any decency, and it’s an act of kindness Robbie hasn’t forgotten.

His idea of returning the good deed, however, is bonkers and the basis for the convoluted plot. I’ve watched the movie twice and still can’t say for certain what is happening except that Robbie is a rogue CIA agent who needs Calvin’s mad accounting skills. Robbie is suspected of killing his partner and auctioning off some satellite codes under the alias Black Badger. He recruits an unwilling Calvin to help him clear his name, and shit goes crazy.

I’m not sure that the finer details of why the CIA is out to get Robbie or who else wants him dead matter. What does matter is that there are shootouts and fights galore. There’s the usual tearing up of a car park and an abandoned warehouse. The dynamic duo hijack a private plane at one point. They sail out an office building in a mail cart and land on an inflatable gorilla. Also someone explodes in an elevator.

It’s entertaining enough but doesn’t stick. The action has plenty of energy but not much personality. What’s more memorable is the partnership between Hart and Johnson. Their chemistry has spawned at least two pairings in the rebooted Jumanji films, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this odd couple pop up elsewhere. A little role reversal works in their favor as well. Hart is as peppery as ever and still given to long-winded rants, but Calvin’s the cautious, level-headed brain of the two. Robbie is more freewheeling; he can’t shake his traumatic high school experience, which allows him to embrace his quirkiness, hence the unicorns and teen romcoms, but which also means he can’t hide behind his intimidating physique. When he confronts his still smarmy nemesis (Jason Bateman), Robbie retreats to his teenage self. That’s one upside. For a movie that is packed with so much machismo, it’s nice to know there’s also room for vulnerability.

Released: 2016
Prod: Scott Stuber, Peter Principato, Paul Young, Michael Fottrell, Ed Helms
Dir: Rawson M. Thurber
Writer: Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson M. Thurber
Cast: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul, Kumail Nanjiani, Melissa McCarthy
Time: 107 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

Ride Along

ride along

Ride Along is basically what you’d expect from a movie starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube about a man who needs his girlfriend’s brother’s approval before they can marry. Ice Cube plays the snarling undercover police officer brother, and Hart bumps around and looks silly as the underachieving, diminutive boyfriend.

The movie has its moments, mostly involving Hart’s character, Ben, as he tries to work his way up from his current position as a high school security guard to the local police force. He is excited when he gets an invitation from James (Ice Cube) to shadow him for the day, hoping the experience will earn him both a future brother-in-law and the goodwill of the department. If you like the actor as I do, his giddiness will have you on the side of the beleaguered boyfriend, who, by all accounts, is a pretty good catch. He’s ambitious, devoted, and involves his girlfriend (Tika Sumpter) in his video game marathons. He probably lets her choose the next movie in his Netflix queue too, which is more than can be said of her brother, who thinks that she’s incapable of making her own life decisions.

Since the couple are so adorably compatible, it’s too bad that Ben has to gain James’s respect and take the audience on a pedestrian 100 minute ride along in order to get it. Even with Hart’s frenetic energy, the film is average at best. It throws a lot of soft punches with easy jokes about shady arms traffickers, misuse of guns, and Ben’s manhood. The plot doesn’t help either, eschewing the thrill of an original story for neatly traced lines over every other undercover police buddy odd-couple film you’ve ever seen. We already know that James is determined to make Ben’s life hell, so it’s not too hard to figure out what tricks he’ll pull (e.g. one with a grizzled biker gang, one with the help of a poker buddy) or that some of his pranks will turn out to be the real deal.

Hart and Cube are both dynamic actors and have a natural chemistry, but that doesn’t help much here. The latter tends to recycle his characters, but that of course gets old, even if people get some thrill out of seeing Ice Cube’s permanent scowl. He used the angry black man persona to better, and literal, effect in 21 Jump Street, but this was thanks to sharper writing and direction that turned each line and look into a powerful full stop. There’s an attempt to correct for this by throwing James some existential angst as he comes to terms with letting go of his sister, but it’s a short-lived emotional ploy. I suppose if you’re a fan of either actor – or Laurence Fishburne, who sweeps in for a cameo and looks like a boss, watch Ride Along to tick off a box, and then move on to something better.

Released: 2014
Prod: Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez, Will Packer, Larry Brezner
Dir: Tim Story
Writer: Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Cast: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Bryan Callen, Tika Sumpter, Laurence Fishburne, Jay Pharoah
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015

The Wedding Ringer

wedding ringer

The Wedding Ringer tries to squeeze a film out of the preposterous notion that groomsman for hire services exist, and make bank. The absurdity is hard to get over and is about as solid as a wedding DJ from Craigslist. After he saves the nuptials of an old schoolmate by delivering an impassioned, and fabricated, best man speech, Jimmy (Kevin Hart) decides to hire himself out to lonely men on their big day. Generally, glad-handing the guests and telling a few punchy stories about the groom will do, but when wealthy tax lawyer Doug (Josh Gad) shows up with a request for seven groomsmen and multiple pre-wedding appearances, Jimmy must roll out the ultimate Golden Tux package.

If you prefer films with some general semblance to reality, seek better alternatives that make a similar statement about friendship and isolation. For my part, I think more highly of this movie than I should, admiring the few moments of clarity when Jimmy and Doug faced their problems with honesty. There was a willingness to confront their loneliness without shame, which is more than the bromance standards of the past decade have done. Those films tend to resort to bluster and fake machismo to cover up for their characters’ fear of adult responsibility and desire for a deeper emotional connection. But when Doug explains that he moved around a lot as a child and finally decided to just stop making new friends, he doesn’t complain or make excuses. Nor does Jimmy when he is concedes that his own interactions are limited to business relationships. There is something refreshing about male characters who struggle with their insecurities but still own up to them.

However, the majority of the movie doesn’t capitalize on that sentiment. Despite some plainspoken yearning for friendship, much of the space is cluttered with clichéd gags and jokes that simply don’t deliver. Gad and a toned-down Hart are surprisingly compatible, so there’s no need to distract with shiny baubles. Jimmy’s band of misfit groomsmen, whose “special skills” include having three testicles and dislocating a shoulder on the spot, are good for one weak laugh, if that. The requisite bachelor party features an unoriginal, unfunny bit about a dog and Doug’s nether regions. Other tricks include setting grandma on fire and playing a muddy, mismatched game of football. Ignacio Serricchio as a fey wedding planner did make me laugh, but not for playing a stereotype. To make a comparison, this film resembles many weddings I attend – touching at times but conventional and not altogether memorable.

Released: 2015
Prod: Adam Fields, Will Packer
Dir: Jeremy Garelick
Writer: Jeremy Garelick, Jay Lavender
Cast: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Ignacio Serricchio, Cloris Leachman, Mimi Rogers, Jenifer Lewis, Jorge Garcia, Josh Peck
Time: 101 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015