Saturday, June 18, 2016

Central Intelligence

Let's start with a little critical thinking lesson. Sign reasoning is the basic concept that is easily explained by the old phrase, "If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, and it walks like a duck... than it's probably a duck."  Now here is where the critical thinking comes in, how certain is the relationship between the signs and the conclusion?  Today's movie offers us several signs that it is a problem, before a single moment of the film runs. First, it's a mismatched buddy film featuring a C.I.A. plot. Second, the trailer features a cheap CGI joke about a fat kid singing in the shower getting bullied. Third, it stars Kevin Hart, a comedian and actor that I have rarely found to be funny. You put those things together and the conclusion is that this film is a piece of crap. To test the validity of the conclusion we might look for other signs that would reinforce the original point. For a guy like me, who grew up in the golden ages of poster art, the visual image on the poster, with the bright yellow background screams "Turd".

Now, let's point out the weakness of this conclusion using the other tests of sign reasoning, are there any contradictory signs?  Before seeing a frame of the movie, I can say there are two signs that might undermine the conclusion above. First, Kevin Hart is balanced out by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Maybe you haven't noticed yet but "The Rock" has become a legitimate movie star and he exudes charisma in everything he's been in.  [As a caveat to the argument, he has been in a lot of crappy pictures, but they were not bad because of him.] Second, the marketing team has had one great idea to sell this film with, a pun based on the names of the two stars. It's not much but I'm a Dad and everyone knows that Dad's like bad puns. In one of my classes this last quarter, I had a student take it upon himself to keep a tally of all the bad puns I made in class. He had me over 150, which for a class that meets twice a week averages almost 4 bad puns an hour, and by the way, more than 40% of class time is taken up by student performance, so if we calculate based on my speaking time the average is well over ten an hour. Which explains why I appreciated the "Little Hart/Big Johnson" tag line, despite it's low brow approach.

Drawing inferences from the above issues, I think it is safe to say I probably would stay away from a film like this for the most part. So how, you might ask, did I end up seeing it?  Now it's time for a little cause-effect reasoning. It's hot here this weekend, and the theater is cold. Also, "Finding Dory" is off limits until my daughter can go with us. Finally, a little disjunctive deductive reasoning, my alternatives for the time we had were "Warcraft" "X-Men Apocalypse" "Now You See Me 2" and "Me Without You". I barely escaped the wheelchair love story, and everything else looked worse.

Having rationalized my way into the film, "How was it?" The answer is, ...not as bad as you might think. Although Kevin Hart did not do much for me, he did not undermine the film and there were a couple of places where he delivered a pretty fair line or two. I could have done without the string of dialogue he throws out when describing his character as being scarred "S***less", but maybe his audience likes that kind of humor. Johnson on the other hand seems to be having a ball, and he actually conveys a series of convincing emotions, which are supposed to be contradictory because we are not really supposed to understand his real character. It's all very convoluted and not important except to say that once again, the man once known as "The Rock" is worth every penny he was paid to be a part of this film.

The movie trades on cliches in some deliberate ways, but it also repeats some cliches without the irony that would make them less likely to choke us. There are two surprise cameo appearances and both actors add a little something to the film that it needed to avoid being dreck. I was pleasantly surprised by last year's "Spy" which covers some of the same territory. This is not quite as satisfying and I can't recommend it highly, but if you have no air conditioning, and you want a couple of laughs, this film will kill two hours and not too many brain cells.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought the marketing was kicked into high gear. They were trying!

Richard Kirkham said...

It might have been just as funny with a reversal of tags, A Big Hart and Little Johnson.