Central Intelligence as Art and Entertainment

Central IntelligencePeople get the wrong idea about me. They think I hate entertainment. But I don’t!

You have to wonder what people expect though. Am I going to write articles about how much I really liked that scene in that movie I saw? Well, in some cases, I will do that. But it won’t be about how cool it was when Robin Hood cut the hangman’s rope with his arrow. There has to be more to it, or what is the point of my writing or you reading?

Reviewing Central Intelligence

So I find myself with the formidable task of discussing Central Intelligence — the 2016 action comedy starring Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that I knew the entire plot from the moment I saw Dwayne Johnson’s face digitally placed on the fat high school boy. Well, not entirely. But if you weren’t 20 minutes ahead of this film, you just weren’t paying attention.

The only thing that was surprising in Central Intelligence was that there were no surprises. Every trope of this genre was adhered to. There was not a single reversal, just to spice things up. I even told my sister[1], “The standard plot dictates that we think the head of the CIA unit be the bad guy (gal), but it will turn out that it is really his dead partner. But usually, screenwriters try to mess around with that.” They didn’t.

In fact, here is a universal truth of Hollywood action films: if all that remains of a dead character is an ear or a toe or some such, that character is not dead. And it’s obvious, really. Why put something stupid like that in the script otherwise? Why not just have the character be shot in the head and buried? Comic relief? Well, perhaps — if the film weren’t already a comedy.

The Film Works, Despite It All

I don’t own the film, so I can’t go into great depth about the total lack of creativity in this script. The same thing goes for all the artistic departments: they all did a perfectly professional job with no hint that anything but competence was required. Yet it works. Unfortunately, I’m not totally sure why. I have theories, of course.

One of the reasons the film works is that it really doesn’t take itself seriously. Most action comedies seem as though the action sequences are serious. Not here. For one thing, Kevin Hart plays these scenes with all the insanity that they deserve. And we all know that Dwayne Johnson cannot be killed.

But I think a bigger reason that the film is so enjoyable is that Hart and Johnson work really well together. Hart is naturally a spaz. And Johnson has shown himself admirably able to play dorky characters. And the two of them just click. The film really isn’t an action picture so much as the story of a boy trying to get a really friendly and lovable dog to stop following him home.

It’s Time Is Over

Of course, there’s nothing real in this film. There is more character depth in a Nichols and May skit than there is in any character in this film. It wasn’t created to last more than a couple of weeks in the theater and then perhaps a year at Redbox. This is why Hollywood cranks out films. But rarely do they have the charm of Central Intelligence. And even when they do, there’s a huge opportunity cost. Central Intelligence cost $50 million to make. That’s over 62 times the budget of Dead Snow.

Central Intelligence was a good way to waste two hours. But watching too many films like it is a good way to waste your life.

[1] In general, I do not talk during films. But my older sister is incapable of sitting all the way through a film. So we had to pause it about eight times.

In— for Latin, Em— for French, Confusion for English

The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and StyleSome words in English, such as enquire and inquire, can be spelled with either en— or in–. In fact, from a historical point of view, these two prefixes are the same. As the Latin language developed into French, Latin in— became en–. For example, Latin inflammāre developed into French enflammer, borrowed into English as enflame. Later the word came to be written as inflame in imitation of the original Latin form. During the middle English period, a great number of French words beginning with en— came into the English language, and in many instances the spelling of these words was similarly remodeled to begin with in–. In some pairs of words, however, the difference in spelling between en— or in— has been used to distinguish a difference in meaning, such as in the pair ensure and insure. Because of the difference in spelling, most English speakers today probably consider ensure and insure to be two entirely different verbs, but in origin insure is just a specialized financial use of the word ensure, “make secure.”

The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style