Dwayne Johnson is a big movie star, and that’s an intended pun: these days, his muscles must be acknowledged before a story can commence. Central Intelligence, a reasonably entertaining take on old-school buddy action movies, takes this acknowledgment to new heights: in the vernacular of the movie, it gets meta on our ass.
The gag is that Johnson’s character was the “fat kid” in high school, and everything he does now that he’s forty or so is colored by over-compensating for this. So he’s huuuuge (“I worked out six hours a day for twenty years”) and he’s also the CIA’s most deadly rogue agent – or something like that. Unlike The Nice Guys, the other recent buddy movie throwback, Central Intelligence does not have an important plot. Hell, it doesn’t really have a plot.
What is does have is chemistry between Johnson and Hart, which is the sole and entire reason to see the movie. Who cares what it’s about? They’re in practically every scene together and they play off each other well. There is a surprising amount of gunplay (and death, which I wasn’t expecting); there is a refreshing lack of sentimentality. There’s an anti-bullying message hidden in there somewhere, too, possibly between Johnson’s biceps brachial and scapula. But you can listen to Sia, Rihanna, Swift or Perry for that. See this movie for Da Boyz; they’ll be back soon, in a remake of Jumanji. And the inevitable sequel to Central Intelligence.
***1/2 out of five)
Simon Stone’s adaptation of his stage adaptation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck tosses out the metaphorical title and tells us straight who this story is about. She’s played by Odessa Young, brilliantly, and a huge part of the enjoyment of this film is watching a star being born in front of your eyes.
Young has previously appeared in Looking for Grace, and based on that and her performance here, I can safely predict her dance card will be full for many years, and will include waltzes with Hollywood. She’s astonishingly present as Hedwig (Ibsen eh!), the daughter of logger Oliver (Ewen Leslie), who re-unites with his old mate Christian (Paul Schneider) to nobody’s benefit.
The many lives thrown off-kilter by Christian’s return to Oz from the US include characters played by Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto and Anna Torv. They’re all solid, but it’s Young, Leslie and Schneider’s show, and they’re all excellent. Leslie, playing against his urbane type, is stunning, making a bunch of really tricky character maneuvers seem effortless. And Schneider, having experience with a couple of Antipodean films and filmmakers (he was in Jane Campion’s Bright Star and Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jess James by the Coward Robert Ford) is believable as an Americanised Aussie – not a natural role for anyone.
It’s really inspiring that in a film with so many brilliant old-timers, it’s the young ones who impress, and the youngest the most. Stone is a young man making his feature debut, and he certainly breathes youthful energy into an old story, while also giving the whole thing a very Euro feel. It’s beautifully shot, too. Perhaps the least interesting thing about it is the actual story, which makes sense: I’d see this film over a stage production of Ibsen any day.