Bad Boys II
Director : Michael Bay
Screenplay : Ron Shelton and Jerry Stahl (story by Marianne Wibberley & Cormac Wibberley and Ron Shelton, based on characters created by George Gallo)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Martin Lawrence (Marcus Burnett), Will Smith (Mike Lowrey), Gabrielle Union (Sydney Burnett), Joe Pantoliano (Captain Howard), Theresa Randle (Theresa Burnett), Jordi Mollà (Johnny Tapia), Gary Nickens (Det. Fanuti), Jason Manuel Olazabal (Det. Vargas)
In terms of sheer loudness and crudity, it’s hard to top Bad Boys II, the latest offering from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay. Bay, perhaps trying to make up for having attempted an air of seriousness in 2001’s bloated would-be epic Pearl Harbor, has gone back into full ADD mode, proving once again that he’s never met a close-up or shaky camera movement that he didn’t love. The action in Bad Boys II is designed to be grand and over-the-top, but it’s so consistently incoherent and mind-numbing (particularly at the movie’s overwhelmingly long running time of 144 minutes) that it wears you down to a pulp before the halfway mark.
Martin Lawrence and Will Smith team up to reprise their roles from the 1995 original, playing bickering “bad boy” Miami police detectives Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey. At this point, the family-man Marcus has just about had it with his playboy partner, whose trust fund makes him the only cop who’s able to drive a Ferrari to work. Marcus has been working on his anger management, while Mike gleefully engages in the mayhem of his job for the sheer thrill of it. The pairing is an odd couple cliché, but in some scenes Lawrence and Smith almost make it feel fun with their free-style ranting. Unfortunately, those scenes are few and far-between, simply filler material labeled “comedy” in-between the elaborately orchestrated violence that surrounds it.
And Bad Boys II is certainly a violent movie—in the sense of both body count and gruesomeness. Much of the movie’s comedy emerges from a dark vein in which dismemberment and carnage serve as exaggerated forms of old-style slapstick. Witness the scene in which Mike and Marcus are pursuing some drug runners who have been hiding bags of ecstasy inside cadavers. In the middle of the chase, the back of the van pops open and cadavers start falling out all over the road, many of which are run over in the pursuit (one’s head pops off when it goes under the wheels). There is a complimentary inside a morgue, where Mike digs around inside the open cavities of dead bodies while Marcus comically retches in the sink. And then there’s the bad guy who gets shot in the head, falls backward in drawn-out slow motion, and … beat … beat … a landmine goes off under his dead body and blows it in half.
The use of gore for comedic purposes is hardly anything new, although Bay may have struck on something somewhat innovative by using it so shamelessly in an action-packed summer movie. At times, it feels out of place, but it often plays as a welcome respite to the movie’s otherwise routine action setpieces. Bay goes overboard, though, with his fetishistic reworking of the Wachowski Brothers’ “bullet time” by pointlessly tracking the path of bullets right into their targets’ foreheads for maximum impact. This does provide one amusing moment early in the movie where one of Mike’s bullets takes out part of Marcus’ derriere, but otherwise it just plays like gross-out juvenilia gussied up in millions of dollars in digital effects. Not all of Bay’s overworked stylistic gymnastics are given over to the depiction of violence, though, as witnessed in a nightclub scene that is, I suppose, intended to show the dangers of ecstasy, but is played with such a high-gloss, oversexed style (the camera glides salaciously between women’s legs again and again) that it makes one want to go out for a rave instead of sitting around for the rest of the movie.
The plot is standard fare, although it took a roomful of screenwriters (including Hollywood Homicide’s Ron Shelton) to cook it up. Mike and Marcus are out to bust a crime syndicate running ecstasy out of Cuba into Miami, and their main focus is the villainous Johnny Tapia, who is so ruthless that he dismembers Russian mobsters in his kitchen. A subplot involves Marcus’ sister, Sydney (Gabrielle Union), who is an undercover DEA agent and also Mike’s secret girlfriend. Not much of this matters, though, except that it provides an excuse for an extended crash-and-burn chase down a Miami freeway, a scene in which helicopters chase down a speeding motor boat, a scene in which a Hummer crashes down a hillside taking out most of a Cuban shantytown, the demolition of an enormous mansion—basically anything that qualifies as sound and fury. Not that sound and fury is bad, but the manner in which Michael Bay renders it is so frustrating that you can’t decide which is the real source of your headache: the overburdened soundtrack or the complete lack of visual coherence.
All the sound and fury, however, can’t quite conceal the movie’s most odious aspect, which is its callous treatment of race. In Bad Boys II, every character is defined by his or her ethnicity, and they all serve as the brunt of the movie’s crude racial humor. This extends also to a scene in which a 15-year-old kid comes to take out Marcus’ daughter for a date at the movies, and Marcus and Mike torment the poor guy, repeatedly throwing the N-word at him and at one point pulling a gun on him. It’s the kind of overdone scene that creates a sense of intense discomfort, rather than the comic malevolence intended. One hopes that the two kids go to see a better movie on their date than this one.
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick