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Johnson & Hart: Anti-Bullying Heroes

Carl Matthes: Because of the pairing of Johnson and Hart, the movie works on several levels, earning credit - big time - for its anti-bullying message while encouraging young students not to give up because it does get better.

What do you get when you mix Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with Kevin “Little Man” Hart?

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  1. A funny action movie
  2. A new take on a “CIA vs Terrorist” film with two unlikely partners
  3. A brilliant pairing of two of America’s top stars creating bromance charisma
  4. A timely and effective anti-bullying movie
  5. All of the above

Opening across America on June 17 was Director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s “Central Intelligence” co-starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart as reunited high school classmates. In school, Kevin “most likely to succeed” Hart is the most popular athletic superstar dating the prettiest girl in his senior class. Dwayne “Robbie Wierdict” Johnson (or at least Johnson’s face, with braces, superimposed on a flabby, overweight body) is just the opposite, i.e., an ostracized loner who is dragged naked from a shower and then thrown into the gym packed with classmates. Kevin is the only student who doesn’t laugh and, in a much appreciated gesture, gives Dwayne his letterman jacket for cover allowing him to exit with some personal dignity.

Jumping ahead 20 years, we learn that Kevin has married his high school sweetheart but has become a disillusioned, almost mousey bookkeeper. Disappointed in life, he has even put off having children. Johnson, who has morphed into “The Rock,” is employed by the government as an undercover operative with muscles and moves to stop the nastiest of villains. The plot unwinds easily, but furiously, as the two friends engage in everything from barroom fights to running from the CIA. Bullets and explosions abound. All of that, though, is just cosmetic as the real flexing is not muscular but comedic. The movie exposes that Johnson is equal to Hart’s frenetic comic style: Rock flexes, Hart reacts. And, because of this pairing, the movie works on several levels, earning credit - big time - for its anti-bullying message while encouraging young students not to give up because it does get better.

In the PR build-up for the release of the film and to drive its message, they talked to students delivering a powerful message about overcoming hardships and bullying. “A lot of students have been challenged here in many, many ways, coming up hard, seeing hard times,” said Johnson. “Kevin and I are no stranger to that.”

“Our message to everybody here is be brave and the first step to being brave is understanding that you control every single step,” Hart told students. “You all have a bright future. You know why you have a bright future? Because you all are your own destiny. If you are a person who has been bullied, we encourage you to speak up. Tell people what is going on.” Johnson revealed his own junior high experience: “Yeah, I was bullied. I thought I was fighting one kid and I got jumped by a gang. I hit that kid so hard after he was bullying me all summer and then I ran so fast. But it was a good life lesson for me. (My mother) made me get in the car, drove me back to summer camp, made me go find him and basically made me work it out with him...morale of her story...don’t you ever run from anybody. She was, like, stand up for yourself.”

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Johnson finished, “Regardless of your challenges, you can overcome them and you can be great. Push yourselves to greatness.”

Hart said, “First and foremost, I believe in the whole anti-bullying thing.” And, “Within situations that make you uncomfortable come lessons, life lessons. (In high school) I didn’t get in fights. The funny guy doesn’t fight. The funny guy made people laugh about being stupid about wanting to fight. My high school years were great years, man. I was a popular kid, a really cool guy.” Interjected Johnson, “He was a good girl. He was a good girl.”

Unfortunately, the movie is laced with language which describes women as being “less than.” Words demeaning of women are constantly used to attack maleness. According to More Women in Skepticism, “If all the skeptical community did was stop employing female gendered insults, it would make the environment more welcoming to women because it would stop emphasizing that women occupy a lower social position to men in the grand scheme of things.”

I agree. There is an unexpected consequence when using “female” words to diminish “males.”

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Where does analogy end and demeaning begin? When using words like “ladies” when challenging men to step-up to the plate, calling another guy “she” as an affront to his maleness, or by saying a guy is a “pussy” or a “sissy” because his actions aren’t tough enough, don’t these analogies actually demean women? Don’t they continue the stereotype that women are less when compared to men?

While Johnson is the perfect foil to fight the power of such “female” words, not every man is visibly a muscled rock. Johnson revels in his physical stature and in his feminine side - a “Soft Rock.” During the film he also proves over and over that you can’t judge someone by how they look. He is not a “brainless hunk of meat.” He is intelligent, naturally empathetic and approachable. You can’t say about him, “Oh yeah, he’s got the best body in the world, but just wait until he opens his mouth!” His talent, awareness and grace, has moved him from being “The Scorpion King” to real life hero.

Hart has learned to temper his sometimes too manic reactions and delivery. Everyone is acknowledging that he is talented, believable, funny, personable and, because of hard work, the “busiest man in comedy.” A joy!

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If you have time, go see “Central Intelligence” for the comedy and action, but stay for the uplifting messages.

Carl Matthes