I’m at a loss for words. When I went to see Central Intelligence I expected an innocuous buddy-spy comedy, but I wasn’t ready for how virulent it would become. This is one of the most problematic films I’ve seen in a while. Not based on any technical aspects, but purely based on the outdated and harmful stereotypes it projects. The first thing you’ll notice about this film is how easily you can identify whose “voice” the film is written in. By “voice” I am of course referring to the film’s perspective, and the cultural point of view that inevitably bleeds into everyone’s work. When you make what you consider “art”, there is always an injection of yourself in the work because it is made from your own personal experiences, ideals and values. The entire film reeked of cis white hetero male bias; one IMDB search later it was all confirmed.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers, Dodgeball) has experience with comedy and knows how to visually set up gags, but has absolutely no idea on how to frame and shoot action sequences. There were a handful of fight scenes where the shoddy camerawork and poor tracking shots muddled every motion, and turned it into an unrecognizable blur. The camerawork, while visually distracting, is not responsible for the main offenses of this film. They are just the superficial coating hiding a repugnant story underneath. I was just as shocked to see it took three people to write this screenplay and they were all cis hetero white men.
Now you may be wondering why identifiers like race and sexual orientation matter? As I mentioned before, it is because of the film’s voice. The story is written for the leads, two men of color. That makes all the stereotypical jokes that much worse and insidious. It does, however, make sense when you see the amount of black cultural appropriation committed by the white characters. Some of these crimes may be explained as Kevin Hart’s own on-set improv, but even then that doesn’t excuse it. I had hoped that this is as bad as the film would get, but it continued to push boundaries beyond race and into sexuality.
There’s a running gag between Johnson’s character and Hart’s where Johnson displays his friendship through hugs, while Hart rebukes him for fear of appearing homosexual. Johnson’s character, who is obstinately anti-bullying and completely secure is his sexuality, is forced to defend Hart from a group of homophobic bar patrons. A good thing to note is that another of the film’s running jokes also involves Hart’s perceived femininity because of his petite frame and high-pitched voice. Johnson takes care of the encounter by immobilizing the three men, but not before scolding them for their homophobia. This was wonderful and made Dwayne Johnson the only redeemable character in the film. Unfortunately, this would prove to be a hollow gesture that is probably meant to balance out all the homophobic remarks and gestures we would see in the rest of the film. This film is under the assumption that you can include homophobia as long as there is some sort of counterbalance, but one scene championing equal rights and over a dozen demonizing it is in no way balanced.
Any other week and I would have mentioned this occurrence and left it at that, but the recent Pulse mass shooting is a reminder that this deadly prejudice is still a problem, and films like Central Intelligence are part of the problem. Having Hart’s character reacting repulsed over the possibility of outsiders questioning his sexual orientation when Johnson hugs him in public is dangerous. It reinforces a toxic and rigid idea of masculinity, which in turn promotes outdated gender roles and non-heterosexual persecution. Two men doing something as trivial as hugging or holding hands or even KISSING should never be answered with prejudice, let alone violence. The film doing this for laughs doesn’t make its effect any less pervasive or surreptitious, as Sunday’s events in Orlando are proof of when a man killed and injured over 100 people only because he didn’t like the idea of two men kissing. For good or evil, this is the potential power in a film’s voice.
Everything involved since the film’s inception, and probably before that, is the very definition of white privilege, but it was taken one step forward by stereotyping other races and injecting casual homophobia. Those people who find themselves drawn to this film solely on the prospects of seeing Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson shirtless, will be disappointed on this front as well. This only happens once in the entire film, twice if you count his CGI-ed face on someone else’s body. By the time it finally does arrive, you’re so disenchanted by the entire film that even Johnson’s muscular physique won’t change your sense of disgust. The only ‘intelligence’ even remotely close to being in Central Intelligence involves your decision not to see the film. That would be the smart thing to do.
Rating: ★ (1/10 stars)