In 1996, Calvin Joyner is the dude. The alpha. The guy everyone loves and everyone wants to be. The star athlete. The star student. A star … everything. No wonder his nickname, "The Golden Jet," is emblazoned upon his much-decorated letter jacket. No wonder he's got the prettiest girlfriend. No wonder his classmates vote him "Most Likely to Succeed" his senior year.
Anchoring the other end of the social spectrum is Robbie. He's got a nickname, too, one that starts with "Weird" and ends in crude slang for the male anatomy. Robbie's as ostracized as Calvin is beloved. He's as pudgy as Calvin is lithe. As beta as Calvin is alpha. And if anyone had bothered to venture a vote prophesying poor Robbie's future, it likely would have been for an inglorious honor such as "Most Likely to Be Forgotten Forever."
Calvin and Robbie's diametrically opposed personal experiences collide during the final high school assembly of their senior year. As Calvin receives plaudits from his principal (who says he's the best student he's had in 40 years), bullies yank Robbie out of a shower (who's so poor he can't afford to bathe at home) and brutally propel his nude body in front of the entire school.
Everyone laughs. Everyone except Calvin, that is, who mercifully covers Robbie with his letter jacket as the humiliated boy scurries from the gym, never to be seen or heard from again.
Well, not for a long while, anyway.
Fast-forward 20 years. Calvin's happily married to that high school sweetheart of his, Maggie. He's toiling away in relative anonymity as an accountant when he gets a Facebook friend request. Bob Stone knows who Calvin is. But Calvin can't for the life of him remember Bob, who's in town for a Central High School's reunion. Still, Calvin, ever the nice guy, agrees to meet Bob for a drink.
Bob, of course, is the overweight outcast formerly known as Robbie. Calvin's stunned to see that the ensuing two decades have carved Bob into the likeness of something not far removed from a Greek god. When Calvin asks about Bob's transformation, he says he just did one thing: He went to the gym. "For six hours. Every day. For the last 20 years. Straight," Bob says.
All these years later, Calvin's the one guy Bob wants to reconnect with. He's never forgotten Calvin's kindness when everyone else was cruel.
Oh, and there's this, too: Bob needs Calvin's help again. That's because the affable lug is actually a CIA agent—and why wouldn't he be?!—who's on the lam, trying to dodge the dogged pursuit of his old boss, clear his name of a murder he insists he didn't commit while stopping the sale of a certain code to certain satellites to certain baddies who want to do certain bad things to the good ol' U.S. of A.
And if Bob and Calvin can check all of those boxes on their do-list quickly enough, they might even have time to make it to their class reunion, too.
Central Intelligence is a goofball buddy comedy that, in some ways, has a pretty big heart. Calvin's having a midlife crisis of sorts, mired and wallowing in insecurity and disappointment that his life has turned out to be so normal—not at all spectacular like his high school days. For her part, Maggie's annoyed that Calvin can't see the value in their successful marriage, so much so that she insists they go to counseling together to work on their union (which he grudgingly agrees to). And note that eventually Calvin does come to realize how significant his marriage is. He tells his wife, "I thought my life was a failure. I thought my life wasn't special. It's special because you're in it."
Calvin tells Bob, "I don't feel like I'm the hero of my own story," a theme that pops up throughout the film. In the end, it's emphasized that Calvin has acted heroically, not only in helping save the country from bad guys with Bob, but in being a friend to someone who was once friendless. In that respect, the movie accurately shows how a simple act of kindness can have an impact on someone for years to come. And it also demonstrates the painful converse, how an act of cruelty can leave lingering scars.
As Calvin comes to terms with his own disillusionment, Bob has to face the ghosts of his past when he encounters his chief adolescent nemesis, a guy named Trevor. At first it triggers all sorts of debilitating memories. But eventually Bob finds the courage to confront Trevor (who's still a tormenting bully all these years later).
In the end, Bob connects the dots between these themes, saying, "[Calvin] taught me what it means to be the hero of your own story. Being the hero of your own story is about overcoming the bullies in your own life."
When Bob and Calvin encounter Trevor as adults, the latter makes a dramatic show of having become a Christian. He says he's found "the Lord Almighty," then pretends to ask for Bob's forgiveness before admitting that everything he's said was just a joke and saying he's actually a Scientologist. A waitress with a crush on Bob pines, "I hope he's Catholic." Someone verbally describes himself as "hashtag blessed." Bob says of a fortunate circumstance, "The universe provides."
The opening scene features young Trevor and his toadies forcibly pulling Robbie from a shower and parading him before the entire high school. We repeatedly see his bare backside in the process. And Bob later tells Calvin that he hasn't let anyone see him naked in the 20 years since that traumatic event. (He says that every time he's had sex since high school has been completely in the dark.) Now, though, in an act of "empowerment," Bob strips (we see his bare upper torso) in the middle of the reunion. He proceeds to dance for a long time, naked, in a crowd of his former classmates and kisses a woman (played by Melissa McCarthy in an uncredited cameo) he had a crush on. She pokes his bare chest as he makes his pecs pop.
A pretty waitress at a bar suggestively implies she wants to hook up with him, but Bob says to Calvin, "All that meaningless sex isn't my bag anymore. I'm looking for an emotional connection."
Bob and Calvin's so-called "bromance" isn't shown to be sexual in any way. Yet the film ridiculously appropriates all sorts of romcom tropes as their friendship grows. They go for a motorcycle ride together, after which Bob gushes, "I had a great time tonight." Later, Bob plays the role of a marriage counselor working with Calvin and Maggie (who thinks Bob's the real deal). Bob role-plays Maggie, kissing Calvin (who's horrified) on the mouth. Bob describes Calvin as being "sexy as d--- right now."
Crude verbal slang repeatedly references men masturbating together. There's a sarcastic quip about homophobia. A man in Calvin's office thinks a female FBI agent is a stripper and repeatedly hollers, "Show us your t-tties!" The same employee tells Bob that he's created a sexting app that makes genitals appear larger than they actually are. Bob accidentally opens a risqué website that suggests gay porn. (We see a man in his underwear.) We hear a reference to another pornographic website.
There's a visual gag about French kissing. A racist conversation proffers stereotypes about different races' genital sizes. Calvin and Maggie reminisce about how they used to make out under the bleachers in high school; we also see the couple kiss. Maggie says she wants to wear a dress to the reunion that will make all the other women jealous.
Slapstick violent antics pervade three fourths or so of the film as CIA agents pursue Bob and Calvin. Bob dishes out all manner of nonlethal resistance, fighting back with his fists and feet, throwing coffee in someone's face and tossing people around. It's clear he's consciously stopping short of lethal force in dealing with his former peers—even if they don't share his ideal of restraint.
Bob and Calvin plunge out of a skyscraper window, their fall broken by a giant inflatable monkey. Calvin tries and fails, twice, to do backflips that leave him painfully face down on the floor. A man gets duct taped to a closet door. Someone gets Tazed twice. Bob and Calvin humorously slap each other's faces.
On the more intense end of things, we're repeatedly shown different versions of an eviscerating explosion that's said to have obliterated Bob's partner in an elevator shaft. A still photo of the remains pictures a detached and bloody ear. Bob ends up getting captured once, and his former boss tortures him. We hear screaming and later see that one of his fingers is at a hideously unnatural angle (before he grotesquely snaps it back into place and insists that its fine).
Bob rips the trachea out of an enemy's throat (and we see him holding it in his hand). He also takes on three goons in a bar, badly manhandling the men who mistakenly think they can take him. Bob and Calvin are both shot. A motorcycle wreck propels its occupant into the air. A final, lengthy showdown involves multiple shootouts (in which people are shot and presumably killed), body slams, neck punches, a car chase (Bob uses an SUV to ram a car that's about to run down the fleeing Calvin) and an explosion.
Crude or Profane Language
About 30 s-words. One audible f-word and (in the closing credits) several more that are bleeped. God's name is abused at least 25 times, including three pairings with "d--n." Jesus' name is misused twice. We hear at least a dozen crude references to the male anatomy ("d--k," "p-cker," "balls"), three uses of "t-tties" and one of "p---y" (as a synonym for coward). "A--" and "h---" are used about a dozen times each. Other profanities include "a--hole," "b--ch," "b--tard" and "d--n." We see one obscene gesture.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Bob and Calvin drink beer and shots in a bar.
Other Negative Elements
Calvin rubs his (clothed) backside on Trevor's office door in protest. Bob and Calvin steal a small plane. Bob jokingly describes Calvin as a "snack-sized Denzel" and a "black Will Smith." There's talk of flatulence and urination.
Central Intelligence reinforces some surprisingly poignant messages for a goofy buddy film of this ilk. Namely, the importance of kindness, friendship and keeping what matters most in life in perspective. There's an earnest tenderness here that sets these proceedings apart from the unrelenting nastiness indulged by so many other entries in the genre.
En route to those messages, however, Central Intelligence takes some sadly predictable detours. Harsh profanity litters the script. An overweight teen's bare backside is exploited for cheap laughs—several times. There are crass conversations about masturbation, pornography, strippers and genitals. The PG-13 film even turns torture and tearing someone's throat out into jokes.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Dwayne Johnson as Bob Stone; Kevin Hart as Calvin Joyner; Amy Ryan as Agent Pamela Harris; Danielle Nicolet as Maggie Joyner; Aaron Paul as Phil; Jason Bateman as Trevor
Warner Bros., Universal
June 17, 2016
September 27, 2016