Everybody loves a great buddy comedy. Well, almost everyone loves a great buddy comedy. They usually follow the setup of two opposite personalities being thrown together for an adventure, then hijinks ensue. Trading Places, 48 hours, Twins, The Heat, etc. It’s a really old formula, and it keeps getting made because it works.
This movie is no exception – it’s solid, not overwhelming, but solid. The tagline, “Saving the world needs a little Hart and a big Johnson” should pretty much give you an idea of the tone of the movie. Get it? Because Dwayne Johnson is huge and Kevin Hart is tiny? Not as funny as you want, but not terrible.
The movie opens with a flashback to a 1996 high school senior assembly – Calvin Joyner is the valedictorian who rules the school and is voted most likely to succeed. Robbie Weirdict is an overweight kid who showers at school during first period. Some bullies find him and throw him naked onto the middle of the gym floor during the assembly. Everyone laughs except Calvin, who gives Robbie his letter jacket to help cover up.
Cut to 20 years later, and Calvin is an accountant who just got passed over for a promotion, is married to his high school sweetheart, and deciding not to go to the 20 year reunion, because he feels he hasn’t lived up to his potential, and that his star is not as bright as it was in high school. He randomly gets a friend request on Facebook after responding to the reunion group from a Bob Stone. He accepts, and in order to get out of going to couples therapy with his wife, agrees to meet with Bob at a bar for drinks. Once there, he realize that Bob is the man who used to be Robbie, and is now – well - he's now the Rock.
Bob gets real friendly real quick, and after beating up some terrible bullies in the bar, they head to Calvin’s house – where Bob suspiciously asks Calvin for help looking up some ‘payroll’ information. Calvin’s computer gets pinged right before Bob “accidentally” spills a beverage on it. The next morning, Bob disappears just as the CIA shows up and asks Calvin where he is. From there on – Calvin gets wrapped up in a mystery where he has to decide if he trusts Bob – who says he’s a CIA agent who has been framed with an international crime, or Bob’s former boss – who says he’s crazy, a criminal, a murderer, and on the run. Hijinks and fun cameos ensue.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who previously did Dodgeball (A True Underdog Story), and We’re the Millers, is good at screwball comedy with surprising heart moments. This is definitely that. Not every joke hits, and some feel a little forced, but the movie has a great anti-bullying message, and some laughs all the way through. The cast is small, but game.
- Dwayne Johnson plays Bob Stone and plays this a little bigger than we’re used to seeing him. He’s usually the action hero, or in a comedy, the straight man. Here – he gets to play the goofy one. It actually works pretty well, and you believe that this guy is all in on trying to solve this case. At first his devotion to Calvin comes off as weird and a little stalker-y, but the advantage of the charm of the Rock is that it goes through creepy to devoted, and you can see that this man attributes most of his positive outlook in life to the one kind gesture from Calvin in high school, and is now able to turn that positivity around and feed it back to Calvin, who needs a boost of self-confidence. I’m not sure anyone else could have pulled that off; it would have just stayed creepy with any other actor.
- Hardest-working-man-in-Hollywood Kevin Hart plays Calvin Joyner – and if you haven’t seen any of his stand-up specials, check them out, they are on Netflix. He’s lightning-paced, and usually is the over-the-top goofy one. However, here, he’s the straight man. It’s interesting, and he does well. They also use the obvious height difference to great comedic effect throughout the movie. Hart makes you feel for Calvin as he slowly gains self-confidence during his screw-ball adventure with Bob.
- Amy Ryan plays Agent Harris, and doesn’t have much to do aside from grumpily chase Bob around and demand assistance from Calvin. She plays it with a snarky superiority that really does help the comedy.
- Danielle Nicolet plays Calvin’s wife Maggie and has even less to do. She basically just keeps requesting that he go to couples therapy with her and go to the reunion with her.
- Jason Bateman plays Trevor – the former high school bully – who is still a dick. Bateman is always a great addition to a comedy, and it’s great to see him get his comeuppance in this flick.
- Aaron Paul plays Bob’s dead partner Phil; and yes, does work ‘bitch’ into a sentence for you Breaking Bad fans. He fits well into the role, and I’d be interested in seeing him do more weird comedies.
- Ryan Hansen plays Steve, Calvin’s co-worker. He’s one of those guys that you’ve seen everywhere before, but might not know his name. He’s hilariously annoying in this.
Hart and Johnson are wonderful together, play well off each other, and I did love flipping what would have been the assumed tones between them. I would love to see them in more movies together, certainly they could throw together a sequel to this. This movie is fun, reiterates a wonderful anti-bullying message, and has the number one thing all comedies should have – outtakes over the end credits!
7 out of 10 – gained points for the chase sequences, for Calvin rescuing Bob, and for Bob surviving Agent Harris’s torture in a hilarious manner.
Bonus – Megan Trainor’s All About that Bass video – the big dude dancing is the one who body doubled for the Rock in High School in Central Intelligence, he is an awesome dancer! Random trivia for you.