Central Intelligence Review: Partners in Crime


Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Writers: Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen

Stars: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul

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Release date: June 30th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Johnson’s loopy performance.

Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.

One is an African-American stand-up comedy icon turned super-successful leading man. The other is an African-American-Samoan professional wrestler turned multimedia empire god. Both are clever, social media-savvy and 110% critic proof. Seriously, who doesn’t love Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson?! The world is in luck, with the pair teaming up to help breathe new life into the buddy-action genre.

Central Intelligence is the first in, hopefully, a never-ending series of movies starring the two. The movie’s marketing campaign was genius, complete with the self-aware line ‘Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson’. It kicks off in 1996, with Calvin Joyner (Hart) being recognized for an award at the high school’s last prep rally for the year. Calvin is the graduating class’s most talented, popular, attractive and likely to succeed. On the other side of the coin, Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) is an overweight kid, with no friends, prone to dancing in the boys locker room showers and suffering shocking acts of bullying. The movie jumps forward 20 years, and Calvin is stuck in a boring accounting job with only high-school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) on his side. On the flip side, Robbie – now Bob Stone – is a ripped, hunky CIA agent.

Make no mistake, there is nothing new or original about Central Intelligence. Borrowing from everything between Lethal Weapon and Spy, the movie checks almost every turn, sub-plot and archetype off the list. The plot boils down to multiple tried and true buddy-cop and spy-comedy clichés. Perfunctorily, Calvin and Robbie bond before the havoc begins. The spy stuff kicks into gear later than expected, with the introduction of fellow CIA agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) and her mission to expose Robbie’s suspected rogue operations. If anything, it cares almost too much about the plot. Even this cast, despite effortlessly delivering reams of exposition, can’t make the superfluous spy-mission speak more interesting. However, everything around the plot elevates the movie above expectations.

Central Intelligence is an explosive and hilarious thrill-ride thanks to its cast, writers, and director’s enthusiasm. Director and co-writer Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) provides his brand of quick-witted comedy. Like his previous efforts, he balances carefully crafted material and improvisation time for his performers. Aided by writer/actor Ike Barinholtz (Bad Neighbours), he delivers a strong assortment of funny one-liners and memorable moments. Its set-pieces are also top-notch, with Hart and Johnson showing off immense action and comedy skills. Hart becomes an effective straight man to Johnson’s over-the-top character. Johnson is the runaway winner, delivering enough mannerisms to balance between enviable action hero type, sensitive victim, and kooky sociopath.

Despite the familiar feel, Central Intelligence is a spot-on action-comedy with thoughts and thrills. The funky sense of humour, fun set-pieces, clever cameos and cast and crew’s infectious energy separate it from the pack. In addition, the movie’s blooper reel is worth sticking around for.

Verdict: A fun buddy-action flick.

Zootopia Review: Born to be Mild


Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore

Writers: Jared Bush, Phil Johnson

Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons

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Release date: March 17th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

4/5

Review: Zootopia

The Gift Audio Review: Past & Present(s)


Director: Joel Edgerton

Writer: Joel Edgerton

Stars: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman

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Release date: August 7th, 2015

Distributor: STX Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

4½/5

Review:

Horrible Bosses 2 Review: Two & A Half Stooges


Director: Sean Anders

Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris

Stars: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine


Release date: December 11th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Entertainment 

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The three leads.

Worst part: The recycled plot.

Review: Horrible Bosses 2

Verdict: Another middling comedy sequel.

This Is Where I Leave You Review – Family Foibles


Director: Shawn Levy

Writer: Jonathan Tropper (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver


Release date: October 23rd, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The tedious gross-out gags.

Hollywood’s latest home-for-the-holidays venture, This Is Where I Leave You, strives to speak to, and for, the masses. Promising relatable situations and interesting characters, this big-budget dramedy strains and creaks whilst grounding itself. Crafting a slicker-than-shoe-polish version of reality, these movies, despite their commendable intentions, never convince. How can they be realistic, anyway? They feature ultra-wacky set pieces and ultra-popular celebrities. Even character-actor Corey Stoll, seen in the background of several recent movies and TV shows, has more money than everyone in Kansas combined.

Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll & Adam Driver.

Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll & Adam Driver.

Fuelled by Kings of Leon, American Authors, a relatable concept, and a starry cast, TIWILY‘s egregious marketing campaign highlighted the broad appeal. Given these actors’ big-and-small-screen successes, the formula seemed destined for positive results. The poster, plonking each big-name next to one another, sums up modern entertainment’s pros and cons. Sadly, the words “formula” and “conventional” linger throughout the final product. The movie, the latest in a series of familial dramedies, isn’t any better or worse than August: Osage County or The Judge. Like the aforementioned celluloid distractions, this dramedy’s reach drastically exceeds it grasp. The story kicks off with a wholly fantastical version of New York City. Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is a radio station manager living the dream. Coming home early from work, he’s shocked to discover his wife Quinn(Abigail Spencer)’s year-long affair with Judd’s favourite shock-jock/boss Wade (Dax Shepard). After three months of excessive remorse, heartache, and beard-growing, the newly divorced Judd is informed of his dad Mort’s passing. The Altman family – rounded out by matriarch Hilary (Jane Fonda), Judd’s sister Wendy (Tina Fey), older brother Paul (Stoll), and youngest Philip (Adam Driver) – come together for the funeral. As per Mort’s last request, the family must sit Jewish mourning custom Shiva. Stuck in their old home for seven days, the Altman’s past and present quarrels collide. Amongst the chaos, several key players show up to further elevate or deflate each family member.

Jane Fonda & Debra Monk.

Based on Jonathan Tropper’s book of the same name, TIWILY feels like an all-too-literal adaptation. Handing screenplay duties over to Tropper, the movie seemingly utilises every page to fill its 103-minute run-time. The original material, perfect for novel length, is lugubriously laid out across this cumbersome script. Like many dramedies, there’s way too much going on. Throwing in more sub-plots and characters than needed, the narrative’s top-heavy structure wains half-way through. The quiet parts, despite straining against the movie’s glorious sheen, deliver subtle and genuine moments. Certain character interactions, bolstered by its engaging cast and witty dialogue, are almost worth the admission cost. Several sequences work efficiently, depicting insults and stories thrown between troubled by fun-loving people. However, crushed under the narrative’s immense weight, the central plot-strands lack emotional weight or sustenance. Bumping into school friend/manic pixie dream girl Penny (Rose Byrne), Judd’s story-line is predictable, soulless, and tepid. Drowning in an ocean of A-listers, montages, and clichés, Bateman explores yet another sad-sack character. This dramedy – lacking the class, bravado, and cockiness of Arrested Development – adds to the comedic actor’s post-TV slump. However, thanks to quick-wit and charisma, the nice-guy lead delivers a measured performance. In fact, Judd, despite his conflict’s tiresome twists and turns, is the most likeable and intriguing character. The surrounding family members, defined by specific traits (new breasts, baldness, immaturity etc.), are mean-spirited and one note.

“It’s hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically screwed up.” (Judd Altman (Jason Bateman), This Is Where I Leave You).

Rose Byrne.

Rose Byrne.

Director Shawn Levy (the Night at the Museum series, The Internship) applies his hack-and-slash style to this subdued dramedy. Levy – whose  filmography includes Cheaper by the Dozen, the Pink Panther remake, and Real Steel – isn’t known for intelligence, verve, or sensitivity. Touching on adultery, familial strife, and religion, its concepts construct only silly scenarios and corny ramblings. Despite the premise, the family’s Jewish heritage is picked up and dropped without warning. Certain sequences, despite the lack of consequences or emotional resonance, deliver big laughs and nice moments. Getting high in a synagogue, Bateman, Stoll, and Driver’s characters deliver comedic and dramatic shades. Also, Fonda’s ever-lasting figure is given significant attention. Playing an open-minded writer/therapist, Fonda charges through the role. The movie serves to boost its actors’ career trajectories. Fey, known for writing and leading better comedic material, excels despite her underwhelming and manipulative sub-plot. Contending with old-flame Horry (Timothy Olyphant) (suffering permanent brain damage from an accident several years earlier), her character’s conflicts deserve more development. In addition, Phillip’s sub-plot – fighting to keep his relationship with older girlfriend/therapist Tracy (Connie Britton) going whilst fighting off former conquests – serves to kickstart slapstick gags and wild misunderstandings. Furthermore, Paul and his zany wife Annie(Kathryn Hahn)’s attempts to conceive yield even-more-implausible set pieces. Despite the misjudged material, character-actors Debra Monk and Ben Schwartz get enough time to shine.

Biting off much more than it can chew, TIWILY is hindered by a lackluster filmmaker and tiresome screenplay. Tropper, despite handing his own material, misjudges the adaptation process. Crafting too many story-lines, characters, and twists, the book-to-film translation lacks joy, weight, or warmth. Despite the distasteful, A-listers-pretending-to-be-normal phoniness, the cast succeeds. Bateman, despite playing yet another down-on-his-luck loner, is charming and affable. Meanwhile, Fey, Stoll, Fonda, and Driver craft entertaining moments. Ultimately, this self-conscious effort never surprises, inspires, or even convinces. Welcome to Hollywood!

Verdict: A charming yet cloying dramedy.