Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 47 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 3; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 3
Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s film offers plenty of laughs and one or two observations about kindness, friendship, and the lingering effects of bullying. Not bad for what could have been just one more summer popcorn movie. It is the latter, but thanks to Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, it rises a little above the usual lame brain concoctions that Hollywood unloads on us this time of year. This “little above” is not due to the silly plot, but instead to the enjoyable chemistry between the two stars.
The film opens with the last school assembly at Central High School where Calvin Joyner (Hart) is being honored as Student of the Year. He has already been a multi-sport outstanding athlete and Home Coming King, the latter with his lovely girlfriend Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) whom he will marry. Just as he is addressing the audience a group of jocks led by Trevor Olsen (Dylan Boyack) rush through the door to the locker room and throw out onto the floor a naked obese student named Robbie Weirdicht (Dwayne Johnson, his flesh puffed either by a body suit or up CGI). The poor boy slides on his stomach into the middle of the gym. While the crowd and his abusers laugh and hoot, the stricken lad stands, holding his hands over his private parts. Only Calvin refuses to join in the jeering laughter, instead rushing over while taking off his lettered jacket, and handing it to Robbie so he can cover himself.
Jump to twenty years later, and the student voted Most Likely to Succeed is just another accountant at a big firm. He did marry Maggie, but he has just been passed over for the coveted promotion in favor of the young man whom he had trained. He is so despondent that he fails to appreciate his good marital fortune, maybe because Maggie’s law career is faring better than his. Their 20th Anniversary of their high school class is coming up, but Calvin tells his wife he does not intend to go. He feels that he peaked twenty years ago and would be embarrassed to reveal what he is doing now. Then comes an email message from Bob Stone. During their exchange the stranger reveals that he is the Robbie Weirdicht whom Calvin had helped during the most humiliating moment in his life. He is in town and would like to meet with him. Reluctantly Calvin agrees.
When they first meet in the busy bar Calvin does not recognize his former classmate. The big, brawny Bob Stone who looms over him is not the flabby student he remembers. Bob explains that during the past 20 years he has worked out every day for seven hours. When Bob single-handedly knocks flat a group of armed toughs who try to bully his friend, Calvin is duly impressed.
The pair manages to gain entry into Central High where Bob talks about Calvin’s accomplishments as they star at the trophy case. However, he becomes very sad when they stand before the door to the boys’ locker room where he had suffered such humiliation. Calvin agrees to him spending the night on a couch in their home. Bob says that he needs some help involving Calvin’s accountant’s and computer skills. When Calvin, following his friend’s instructions, goes on line, a number of account information and codes pop up. Bob quickly spills beer on the keyboard, so that Calvin has to shut down and clean up the mess.
The next day when Agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) and some fellow CIA agents show up demanding to know the whereabouts of rogue agent Bob Stone, Calvin says that he is on his couch. But when they rush to the room, the couch is neatly made up, and Stone is gone. Terrified, the motor-mouthed Calvin stutters and tries to deny that they are actually friends. The agents claim that Stone is a murderer and has information about satellite codes that he intends to sell to a foreign power. When Stone and the agents show up at the office, there is a merry, madcap chase that involves them escaping by crashing through a window high up in the building, their salvation being a funny (if improbable) landing on an object we had barely noticed earlier.
The rest of the adventures are just as improbable, but if you overlook this, they are fun to watch and hear. Hart is as funny as one would expect, but Johnson also has such funny lines as his observation to his friend, “You’re like a snack-sized Denzel!” His disappearances and reappearances are also fun, such as when Calvin finally gives in to Maggie’s plea that they seek out a counselor for their troubled marriage. Who should be sitting in the therapist’s chair but Bob Stone himself, later revealing to Calvin while Maggie is out of the room, that he has wrapped the gagged man in a thick roll of plastic and duck taped him to the inside of a closet door.
The plot is crazy, but the moments when Bob Stone reveals the deep-set anguish caused by being bullied in high school ring true. His final realization that he, and the disappointed-with-his-life Calvin, must accept themselves as they are is also gratifying. A popcorn movie it is, but for those wanting to relax and laugh, a good choice for summer viewing.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the August issue of VP.