Central Intelligence

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber (2016)

In every sense the world’s biggest movie star, Dwayne Johnson’s huge charisma, charm and frame dominates this entertaining action comedy.

As a rogue CIA agent Robbie Weirdich, Johnson is like Jason Bourne on comedy steroids, combining a tremendous sense of goofy fun with the ability to fight his way out of a kitchen using only a banana.

The name of the character name is a pointer to the sophistication of the film’s humour.

Robbie is framed for the death of his partner and so lands unexpectedly on the doorstep of Calvin, his erstwhile best friend from high school.

Squeaky voiced comic Kevin Hart is refreshingly restrained and occasionally even funny as Calvin.

In order to accommodate the pneumatic presence of Johnson, Hart is squeezed into a rare straight man role. Although rarely allowed to ad lib in his usual shouty style, whenever Hart wriggles free the film stalls.

Once the king of the high school prom and predicted for greatness, Calvin is now a dull accountant and is having difficulties at home. Danielle Nicolet is sweetly concerned as his beautiful wife, Maggie.

Calvin reluctantly teams up with his erstwhile buddy to attempt to recover some military files while being pursued by the CIA.

Through all the chases, fights, escapes, interrogation, torture and some terrifying relationship therapy, it’s the strong comic rapport between the leads which keeps us engaged.

Amy Ryan is keeps a straight face as an icy CIA chief, Aaron Paul makes an impression in a small role and Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy cameo.

The story is predictable but Central Intelligence blasts along with a fun energy, decent stunts and some surprisingly violent action. Though not an over abundance of intelligence.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

 

 

 

Fast & Furious 7

Director: James Wan (2015)

Despite the mid-shoot death of star Paul Walker, the latest high-octane vehicle to roll off the Furious production line demonstrates there’s no end of the road in sight for this glossy franchise juggernaut.

It’s a typical cacophony of tanked up car-nage powered by the winning performances of Walker and a billiard of bald action co-stars; Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel and Jason Statham.

Racing from London to Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles in a whirl of screaming tyres, knuckle-crunching fist-fights and shoot-outs, it picks up camels, military drones and helicopter gunships along the way.

What the series lacks is an easily identifiable theme for when the action kicks into gear, such as enjoyed by James Bond and the Mission Impossible films.

Following directly from the previous instalment, former British Special Forces Assassin Deckard Shaw (Statham) swears revenge for the injuries sustained by his brother.

Holding Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his crew of drivers whom responsible, Shaw uses the office computer of Special Agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) to discover their whereabouts – and then beats him up for good measure.

This allows Johnson to spend the greatest part of the film recuperating in bed. Despite being plastered prominently in the advertising posters, Johnson bookends the film rather than play a major part. His eventual reintroduction towards the end sees him striding about like Schwarzeneggar in Terminator 2.

When Toretto discovers his former comrade Kang has been murdered by Shaw, he sets out to find the assassin before Shaw can find him.

In walks supercool special operative Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) and puts Toretto’s team back together. Regular franchise watchers will recognise them as Brian, Letty, Roman and Tej (Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges).

It takes a while to adapt to seeing Russell – who earlier in his career played Snake PlisskenJack Burton and Elvis – as a government suit.

Petty works in an extremely busy yet surprisingly quiet car factory. He offers the team the use of the God’s Eye, a super-powerful computer program that will trace the whereabouts of Shaw.

But there’s a catch; the hacker who created it – Megan Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) – has been kidnapped and Toretto’s team have to rescue her before they can access the God’s Eye.

This results in a brilliant mountainside chase is the movie’s best sequence and seems partly inspired by Michael Caine’s classic car caper The Italian Job (1969).

Another nod to a major a movie occurs in Los Angeles when a line of mannequins is destroyed immediately before a chase down the 2nd Street Tunnel. I doubt many of 2015’s mega-plex fillers will have the confidence to casually throw in a Blade Runner reference.

Fast Furious 7 works because no matter how preposterous the excellently executed action, all the actors play their roles with cast-iron conviction without once mugging or winking to the camera.

However the film does run away with itself. Except for the brief scene where Shaw is cornered in an old factory, the entire middle section set in Abu Dhabi could be jettisoned.

Although it provides for yet more bikini opportunities, a decent high-rise stunt and some cultural damage involving Chinese Terracotta soldiers, the film would be tightened up and considerably improved without it.

Due to Walker’s accidental death, various techniques were used to complete his scenes in a mostly seamless way.

His brothers Cody and Caleb stood in for him in certain shots and the director added footage of the actor from the earlier films. Some digital manipulation was also used to complete certain scenes.

This enable the producers to deliver a coherent movie which doubles as a fitting and touching tribute to the much-missed action star.