This drab action comedy from middling director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re The Millers) suffers badly from a convoluted and uninvolving plot and over reliance on predictable genre conventions. The film is rescued from the doldrums thanks to the charismatic energy and star power of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in the lead roles. Their winning double act is guaranteed to generate decent returns at the box office. It’s just a pity that their unquestionable talent is wasted on such a flaccid script.
The film’s strongest component is the dynamic between the two main characters which is neatly set up in the opening sequence. It’s 1996 and Calvin Joyner (Hart) is a high school athletic hero, voted most likely to succeed by his peers. His classmate, the beautifully named Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson), is an awkward, overweight target for bullies. In a moment of compassion, Calvin helps Robbie out of a humiliating situation. It is this act of kindness which builds the foundation for the action that follows. Twenty years later, Calvin finds himself in a dead-end accountancy job suffering from an existential crisis. Robbie is now known as Bob Stone, a buff high level CIA agent who still holds Calvin in high regard. The role reversal between Calvin’s self assured high school persona and his adult self loathing is nicely portrayed by Hart and complimented by Johnson’s pitch perfect performance. Despite his elevated stature and physique, Bob is still an uber geek at heart with a predilection for unicorns, fanny packs and the Molly Ringwald movie Sixteen Candles.
The plot which is built around these appealing characters is where the film goes wrong. Bob requires Calvin’s assistance to find some high classified satellite files that have gone missing. It turns out that the CIA suspect that Bob has turned rogue, murdered his ex-partner (Aaron Paul), stolen the files and is going to sell them on for his own profit. Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) is sent to reprimand Bob and bring him to justice. A cat and mouse chase ensues and Calvin subsequently finds himself caught up in the dangerous world of government espionage. It is a formulaic, implausible, badly executed mess. The film plods to a tired climax, padded out with tepid action sequences that lack any cutting edge or visceral excitement. Despite the occasional effective gag and some decent pop culture references (Facebook, Taylor Swift and Will Smith are all cheekily poked at), the script is badly lacking in original ideas. There is fun to be had with the cast though. Amy Ryan does her best with flimsy material, while Aaron Paul, Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy all turn up in diverting, entertaining cameos.
It’s the Johnson and Hart show ultimately. There’s a strong chemistry between the pair and the film feels as though it was purely designed as a vehicle for them to display their comedic smarts. It works to an extent but the story is so trite to be almost inconsequential, never aspiring to take a risk or steer away from the middle of the road. If more time had been spent on script development and a less hackneyed director was running the show this could have potentially been a strong addition to the buddy action comedy genre. It has it’s moments but the disparate elements never come close to forming a cohesive or engaging whole. Despite the best efforts of an excellent cast, this is more Cop Out than Lethal Weapon. A missed opportunity.