Mismatched odd couple duos have often created a solid basis for comedy, but Central Intelligence is far from your usual buddy action-comedy because it pairs the oddest couple possible in Dwayne (“The Rock”) Johnson and Kevin Hart, two of the biggest stars in action and comedy, respectively.
ComingSoon.net went to Boston last summer to watch a bit of filming and talk to the two stars and their director Rawson Marshall Thurber, best known for popular hit comedies Dodgeball and We’re the Millers.
In this buddy comedy said to be “in the vein of ‘Rush Hour,’” Kevin Hart plays accountant Calvin Joyner who reunites with an old schoolmate Bob Stone (Johnson) via the internet. In school, Bob’s name was Robbie Weirdicht, and he was a big kid who was constantly picked on and bullied, but when they reunite, Calvin learns that Bob is now a CIA agent who pulls Calvin into his world of espionage and action.
Thurber found the script written by Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen when it was still at Universal and starring Ed Helms and Will Ferrell. When Universal decided not to make the movie and Thurber had a hit with We’re the Millers, he was asked what he wanted to do next, and he convinced New Line to buy the screenplay, which was already called Central Intelligence at the time.
Producer Scott Stuber was the person who came up with Dwayne Johnson for a character that was being dubbed “fat Jason Bourne.” “I think the joke is different, I think it’s actually better,” Thurber told us during a quick break from filming. “The joke is that though he looks like Dwayne Johnson on the outside, on the inside he is still the same sort of fat kid from high school that got picked on and bullied, so he still has all those insecurities and all those vulnerabilities even as this 250 lbs. of muscle armor is built on top. It was such a sweet endearing way to play the character and I couldn’t imagine it another way.”
“When we meet him, he’s incredibly shy. Bullied unmercifully, he has a lot of quirks and idiosyncrasies,” Johnson said about his character. “That’s who we meet in the beginning of the movie. Because he was bullied, he quit high school after this one particular event, and he decides to change his life around. He works for the CIA and becomes very efficient as a CIA operative. And, like a lot of things in life, when it’s time to pay the piper and you face your greatest fears, sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t go well. In this case, he’s my greatest fear in case it doesn’t go well.”
Rock mentioned that part of his humiliation in high school has left Bob a little “stunted” in his adult life, and despite his massive physique and athletic prowess, he’s still stuck as that nerdy kid from the ‘90s. He even said that Tom Hanks’ character in Big was a big reference for how he plays Bob.
“What I think is kind of cool is taking the biggest action star in the world and he is the source of comedy in our movie, and then we take one of the funniest people in the world, Kevin Hart, and he’s our straight man,” Thurber said. “I have never seen Dwayne do anything like this and in a way I have never seen Kevin do anything like this because he has to be the foil to Dwayne’s comedy and that’s not to say Kevin Hart isn’t funny because he can score whenever he wants to and the pairing has been fantastic.”
Hart addressed the idea that he was playing more of the straight man to Johnson when we spoke to him later in the day. “For my first time playing the straight leading man role, even though it’s funny, it’s about telling a compelling story and making everything work. When a film like ‘Ride Along’ comes along, playing with Cube, it’s comedy relief, it’s more of the guy who wants so much but is afraid to do. In this particular case, it’s a different level of that. Calvin is a guy who is in a position he doesn’t want to be in and at some point has to build up enough courage and enough balls to deal with the situation and make right by the situation, to grasp hold of it and making decisions that matter. That’s what was intriguing about the movie, that and working alongside Dwayne, doing an action-comedy that is separate from the action-comedy that I have already done.”
“I am excited people get to see DJ in a different light,” he would also tell us. “Talking about working hard. My co-star works just as hard if not harder than me, so the fact that he was willing to take a movie with a comedic talent like myself, and was willing to step into that role, knowing that is not what he does made me look at him and respect him more. I gotta make sure I make my guy look good. I can’t make you look good if I am trying to be better and funnier than you in these moments. I gotta make you look funny when I am supposed to, and in return, when there are moments when I am supposed to be funny I take advantage of these moments.”
In turn, Johnson sees this movie as a great chance for Kevin Hart to break bigger overseas, since so far, he definitely has built more of a fanbase in the United States. “From a business standpoint, he’s got a little work to do in regards to international appeal, and he understands that, by the way,” Johnson said, “He’s already started to layer in trips over there, and he’s got an international tour prior to the film coming out. With anything, it takes time to build, and he’s built an incredible business here. I think that this movie has a lot of potential to travel globally. We do have different sensibilities but we have similar sensibilities in terms of business and in terms of growth and connecting with audiences. Kevin understands the potential, we all do, by the way, of what this movie could be, because it’s the type of comedy that can travel. I believe in it, and where I go in terms of promoting this movie, we’re both going.”
On the day we arrived to set, we were able to watch a scene where Bob and Calvin go to the former high school bully Trevor to get his help. While he seems happy to see them at first, he’s still clearly a jerk. He decides to pick up where he left off by berating Bob, who does nothing about it. We can’t say who plays the role of Trevor, but it’s someone well known in the world for comedy (and from Thurber’s past) making a cameo in the movie. He actually did most of the talking during the scene, referring to Bob as “Weird-dick,” the name Robbie was called after the high school incident. Calvin keeps urging Bob to kick Trevor’s ass, but Bob is still as petrified of Trevor as when they were in school together. It looks like it will be a funny scene and hopefully a nice surprise.
“It will all come full circle, the scene you saw,” Johnson said about allowing the bully to get the better of him in that scene. “Of course he’s going to get his comeuppance in the end, but there’s a very cool moment at the end where Bobbie shows the world the real him.”
We didn’t get to see any of the younger “Fat Robbie” that day (though you can see him in the various trailers), but they’re using the WETA FX team to create the younger, fatter Johnson for a scene when he’s caught singing En Vogue in the locker room shower and is basically thrown out of there naked to huge humiliation that forced him to leave school. Not that it might embarrass Johnson. “Show me an opportunity, of course I’m going to sing,” he joked.
Hart says that he was never that guy in school, while trying (and failing) to be modest about how cool he was: “I don’t want this to come out wrong, but I was like never not a cool guy, so in high school I never had that problem. Even though we weren’t in a financial place to have the nicest clothes or the best sneakers, I had personality, and for me that is bigger and better than anything you could have, the ability to fit in any crowd with any group of people. In high school I was most popular, most loved, definitely not most likely to succeed–not with those grades–but I had friends all over the board, and I didn’t just stick to just one group or have one clique – everyone in my high school loved me.”
As we watched the aforementioned scene done out from different camera angles, we sat in a conference room that had been built to the back of a large office center with cubicles and computers. The glass window looking into the room was mostly on the floor in shatters with someone or something having been thrown through it. No one would really tell us what happened, but it gave us a good idea about the degree of action.
When asked whether this movie would be on the larger scale of action for Thurber, he responded, “For me? Absolutely. For Michael Bay? I don’t think so. I think this would be an afternoon. It is very much in the vein of ‘Rush Hour,’ at least that is what we are hoping for in terms of the movies that I referenced. ‘Rush Hour’ had a great balance of action and comedy. ‘Beverly Hills Cop,’ ‘48 Hours,’ ‘Running Scared’ with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines is where I am heading with it. It is definitely a “capitol-C comedy” not a “parenthetical lowercase 9pt font action” movie, so we are trying to balance it and we spent a lot of time trying to make the action cool and interesting. I don’t think that it is going to go punch for punch with ‘Transformers’ or any of the straight action movies but I think we will give people a good ride.”
Johnson told us more about the action, which is definitely his forté: “Allan Poppleton who is a tremendous fight and stunt coordinator–he worked with us on ‘Hercules’ and ‘San Andreas’–he always comes to the table with fight sequences that are different and cool. We have a great shorthand now so he understands my strengths and the things I look really sh*tty, at doing so he does not present them. But you guys are going to be happy with that. And that’s a really great question, because you think Rawson you think comedy. You think me? You think porn,” he joked.
Central Intelligence opens nationwide on Friday, June 17.