by Matt McKenna
More than the thousands of articles laboriously describing the apocalyptic state of American politics in 2016, the low-brow Kevin Hart comedy Central Intelligence is the most efficient and accurate portrayal of the circus we’ve created out of our Presidential election process. In hindsight, it seems odd to expect long-read think-pieces in periodicals like the New Yorker to shed light on what is less of a democratic election and more of a reality show called “Who Wants to be the President”. Indeed, a run-of-the-mill summer comedy with the crass tagline “Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson” seems the more appropriate medium to comment on our equally crass election. So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that director Rawson Thurber’s Central Intelligence isn’t just reasonably funny, but it also provides a legitimate critique of American politics.
Central Intelligence co-stars Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Hart plays Calvin Joyner, an accountant who is bummed out because he used to be cool in high school, but now he’s boring. Johnson plays Bob Stone, a CIA operative who was bullied mercilessly in high school, but now he’s super jacked. Because Calvin was nice one time to Bob in high school, Bob recruits Calvin to help him on some cockamamie save-the-world mission involving satellites, access codes, and Aaron Paul implausibly portraying a CIA agent. The story, of course, doesn’t make sense, nor was it designed to make sense, which is the first clue the film is actually commenting on American politics.
The humor in Central Intelligence stems from the conflict between the diminutive Calvin and the gargantuan Bob. Calvin is a stuck-up white-collar jerk, and Bob is an naive violence-loving semi-idiot. The film has therefore patterned its leads after the stereotypes of the two major political parties in America; Calvin represents Democrats with their politically correct, holier-than-thou elitism, and Bob represents Republicans with their inability to solve problems in a way that doesn’t involve applying violence to something. Neither party gets a pass in the film–Calvin is frequently the butt of the joke as he sheepishly runs from conflict and is unable to take care of himself. And though he is able to beat people up, the motivation for Bob to develop his physically dominating stature is his feeling emasculated as an adolescent.
To only see the film as a passably funny personification of America’s political parties, however, would be to miss the film’s embedded critique–Calvin and Bob, despite their difference in size, despite their supposed incompatibilities, and despite the fact that Calvin (the Democrat) is constantly trying to distance himself from Bob (the Republican), they are, in fact, actually working together to achieve the same end. For example, during one silly escape sequence, Bob skillfully shoots up enemy agents while Calvin pathetically attempts to give himself up and turn Bob in. However, in the traditional farcical manner of goofball comedies, each of Calvin’s attempts to turn himself in actually results in his knocking an agent unconscious, predictably creating the situation he was ostensibly trying to avoid.
If the differences between Calvin and Bob are played for laughs in Central Intelligence, the corresponding differences between Democrats and Republicans in reality are similarly played for entertainment value. For example, Americans are wildly entertained by Democrats and Republicans arguing about gun control as if the two parties have meaningfully different principles. However, while Americans soak in vitriolic arguments via cable news and social media, the two parties have surreptitiously achieved their actual combined goal: to do nothing. After all, why would Democrats pursue legislation like an ill defined “assault weapons ban” that not only will never get through Congress, but even if it did, it wouldn’t make a dent in gun-related homicides? And why would Republicans, those freedom-loving patriots, push back on restricting gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list? If it doesn't make sense it's because, like Central Intelligence, it wasn't designed to make sense–it was designed to entertain.
If you’re wondering how the United States now finds itself in a situation where it will elect either the cartoon-character-come-to-life Donald Trump or another Clinton, some clarity can be had by watching Central Intelligence. Just as the differences between Calvin and Bob exist to entertain, so to do the differences between Democrats and Republicans. The problem is that although Calvin and Bob bumbling their way through geopolitical affairs is sometimes funny, it’s a lot less humorous when our elected officials do it.