06/07/2016

Central Intelligence - Comedy And The Hyperbole

Quick Thoughts: Central Intelligence

The Rock's a CIA agent. Kevin Hart's not. It's a action/comedy. You get it.


This is an all right film. A good time at the pictures. It's a play/spoof/homage on/to a whole load of movies. It's an old screwball comedy meets a Hitchcockian suspense thriller meets a Bruce Lee action/fight film - and of course an 80s teen romance (bromance). The elements of this film that work well are the spoofs of the action and thrillers. The jokes centering around misdirection and accidental happenings are the strongest parts of this film because of this - can't give examples without spoilers, sorry. What you can't put aside though is the fact that this is primarily a comedy. So, does it make you laugh? Yeah. Reasonably so. However, there's tropes in this film that really let the audience down.

To understand this it's best to start where this film gets it right. I love the no-bullshit screenwriting style. The writer clearly knew what this was and what sucks about both action and comedy films today. By this I men the archetypal agents that are simply stupid, or so 1-dimensional, that they are clearly nothing more than a writer's device. Unfortunately, there isn't a no-bullshit direction or acting style. With the acting that's fine (as it's a comedy - it needs to be over the top) but the direction, not so much. I'm not talking so much about the blocking, camera angles and so on (all competently filmed) but the logic of action translated to the screen.

This is where writing, direction and acting don't mesh well. Whilst the plotting of this film is no-bullshit, it takes liberties at times that are common in comedy and is simply milking the premise. To give an example I only need to point to the opening of the film. In a whole load of comedies asshole bullies are hyperbolised, made out to be this horrific force that can get away with anything and, with this film especially, that makes no sense at all. I sat watching this movie thinking: These assholes need to go to prison! Who on Earth would sit there and laugh!?

The main thing I want to ask with this film, however, is... really? What? Is that real? Are we supposed to take that seriously?

A gym full of students laugh at a fat naked guy thrown into the room with clear malicious intent. It's not funny on screen, I have no idea how it could be funny in reality. I'm not moaning about bullying and how it's not funny here. I mean...


Not a great film, but a moment that's funny. And that's because it's hyperbolic in a sensible way (even for an Adam Sandler movie). In other words, the stupidity is set up well. This film has a overall anti-bullying message - and that's fine. But, it doesn't set up for that, and with the direction and acting style being so over the top, it kind of feels like the film, director and so on are simply lying. It feels like the film is shoehorning in some current political agenda, that we should all be rising up against. But, that's hard to do when the issue is trivialised by contradictions in half-serious writing and flippant direction.

This is not my main issue though. Comedy distorts reality, but can it just become ridiculous? In this case, I think so. Yes, having a CGI fat Rock thrown into a gym is simply milking the premise, but, it gives the film an unstable base that doesn't help character development at all. This is ultimately what makes the film harder to take seriously, and not just as a movie with a message.

The physical comedy is all too hyperbolic. It escalates too fast for the audience to follow or to get genuine laughs. It's the likes of Chaplin that knew that physical comedy was something small, it was a tiny moment like a trip, a waking style, a roll of the eyes, a flick of a cigarette, and when you want bigger laughs you have to slow build the fire - and it all comes down to character.

Central Intelligence has elements of good character, but is lacking a genuine feel to it. And for me, it all comes down to direction. There's small parts in the latter half of the first act to do with character building that are complete gold. But, when the film has to pick itself up and start running in the second act the style of direction takes over and it sticks out like a sore thumb. You're always aware that actors are acting and that a camera is filming. This all comes down to over the top comedic jumps, leaps, bounds. In other words, comedy skips from zero to one hundred, and not in an exciting way, in a way that has us question character and logic.

So, in the end, a good film. I would recommend watching it, but I'd assume you'd only ever see it once - maybe twice if it came on T.V.





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