Thursday, July 17, 2003
Bad Boys II
Bad Boys, which made a movie star of Will Smith, was a $10 million sleeper that the studio almost pulled the plug on. Smith, who played too-cool-to-care Miami cop Mike Lowry, and Martin Lawrence, who played his perpetually frustrated partner, Marcus Burnett, were brought in after Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz, for whom the script was developed, dropped out. Director Michael Bay, a 28-year-old who had directed only music videos and ads, had only a pittance for rewrites, so his lead actors improvised heavily to make the script work for them. In the process, they came up with the banter that was one of the loose-limbed movie’s greatest charms. Bay and producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson did the rest, giving the movie their signature polished look, high-voltage energy, and copious explosions.
Bad Boys II, the sequel the studio was panting for, cost more than seven times as much, which makes you appreciate the slick look of the original. It also makes you wonder what all the extra millions were spent on. A lot must have gone to salaries, since both stars are now hot and Bay has since upped his salary by directing hits like Pearl Harbor and Armageddon. But a lot must have literally gone up in flames. Bad Boys II is Bad Boys on steroids, with more and bigger explosions, a much larger and classier fleet of vehicles to trash, and a tendency to take things too far.
Once again, Mike and Marcus are trying to keep a big drug deal from going through. Complicating the bust this time is Syd (Gabrielle Union), Marcus’s sister and Mike’s girlfriend, who gets abducted by the dealer in the course of her work. Syd, it seems, is a gun-toting, stunt-driving, bad guy-seducing undercover DEA agent — a twist that the talented but sweet Union can’t quite pull off.
Syd’s romance with Mike does not convince either, though Union is easy to buy as a love interest. The damp head of that match seems to be Smith, who has yet to pull off a convincing onscreen romance. But the lack of chemistry between Mike and Syd doesn’t detract from the fun as much as the chill between Mike and Marcus.
Smith is a bona-fide movie star, and he always plays smooth-talking ladies’ men. He’s a man’s man as well, though, and his characters tend to do their real bonding with their buddies. In Bad Boys, his Mike played Oscar to Marcus’s Felix: the two squabbled constantly, but the affection between them was palpable. In the sequel, Marcus seems truly fed up with Mike, which makes his complaints a lot less fun to listen to. Their relationship may be more realistic, but it’s not nearly as funny — and who wants realism in a movie like this?
Bruckheimer and Simpson (who gets a co-producer credit on Bad Boys II although he died in 1996) pretty much invented the blow-’em-ups that dominate our summers. From their first effort, 1983’s Flashdance, the producers of Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, and Days of Thunder knew how to tap into our lizard brains.
Their short attention span theater always features underdogs and rebels who triumph by breaking the rules, but the plot is not the point. The real appeal lies in watching self-assured young men and clothing-averse young women fret, flirt, zip around in glistening machines and generally act cool, burnished by picture-postcard-perfect camerawork and lighting and backed by pounding soundtracks. And, of course, to watch stuff get blown up.
But that golden formula may be losing its sheen. Like junkies upping the dose to maintain the same high, Bruckheimer and his imitators have to keep giving us more bang for the buck just to keep our adrenaline flowing at the same rate, and you can only do so much of that before you OD. Even Marcus seems to think things have gone too far in Bad Boys II. “You’re gonna break a world record for gunfights in a week!” he tells Mike.
There are at least seven ferocious gun battles in this movie, plus five drawn-out chases, including one stunner on a bridge, where cars on a fleeing transport truck are let loose one by one to somersault into the cop cars speeding in pursuit. There’s also an infestation of rats; a sawn-apart body whose gory parts are crammed into a barrel; a severed finger; embalmed bodies that tumble out of a mortuary truck into heavy traffic, where some get run over; and a scene inside a mortuary where Mike roots around inside corpses in search of evidence.
Are we having fun yet?