– Summary –
Director : Michael Bay
Year Of Release : 2003
Principal Cast : Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Gabrielle Union, Jordi Molla, Otto Sanchez, John Seda, Peter Stormare, Oleg Taktarov, Michael Shannon, Theresa Randle, Joe Pantoliano, Jason Manuel Olazabal, Yul Vasquez, Treva Etienne.
Approx Running Time : 148 Minutes
Synopsis: Two loose-cannon narcotics cops investigate the flow of ecstasy into Florida.
What we think : Smith and Lawrence carve a swathe of destruction, carnage and misogyny through the streets and waterways of Miami, while Michael Bay’s adrenaline-fueled camera barely captures the entirety of this film’s “plot”. Filled with loads of “banter” by the two leads, as well as Bay’s penchant for filming women up their skirts, and plenty of brutal gunfights, car chases and explosions, Bad Boys II is lo-fi storytelling with hi-fi money behind it. Extremely violent and utterly irredeemable as a piece of “entertainment”, the sequel to the fairly competent original is dirty, nasty, and utterly trashy. In other words: it’s a Michael Bay film.
Whatch’a gonna do? Find somewhere else to live, is what.
Michael Bay’s fifth film as director re-teamed Hollywood A-lister Will Smith with fellow “comedian” Martin Lawrence – I use the term with emphasis because I’m still unconvinced at Lawrence’s comedic skills actually being something a normal person might make a living off – for the sequel to the 1995 out-of-the-box smash hit, Bad Boys. With Bad Boys II, Bay channeled all his rampant sexualization of women, his fetish for wanton destruction and carnage, and off-kilter humor into what was, for him, a smaller film than those he’d done to that point. Coming off a box-office hit (but critical turkey) with Pearl Harbor, after three consecutive action hits in Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon, Bay’s return to the Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey show felt a little like he’d come full circle – it was where his career began, and thus the sequel felt a little like a tip-of-the-hat to the fans, the audiences who’d made him a (relative) household name. Bad Boys II is a bigger, badder, meaner, slicker sequel in every way, the kind borne of character familiarity and perhaps a sense of pushing the envelope beyond breaking point; while Smith was churning out box-office gold with almost every film he appeared in, Lawrence’s career to this point involved box-office poison like Blue Streak, Big Momma’s House, and the precursor to stupid medieval spoof movies like Your Highness, in Black Knight, all of which were rightly condemned as utter shit. Lawrence needed a big hit to get back into Hollywood’s good graces – and Bad Boys II was his meal-ticket. With Bay behind the camera, Will Smith once again charming the ladies and everyone else with his debonair swagger, and a budget set to cater for massive pyrotechnics and action sequences, would Bad Boys II recapture the glory of those halcyon days of the mid-90’s, or would it be yet another drubbing by critics at the hands of a director known for his lack of subtlety and restraint?
Miami Police Officers Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) are working a case of high quality ecstasy coming into the city from Cuba. This clash leads then into jurisdictional conflict with the DEA, on their own case with Burnett’s sister, Sydney (Gabrielle Union) working deep undercover as a money launderer. Syd’s mission is unknown to Marcus, who is also unaware that Syd has embarked upon a romantic relationship with Mike. After initially butting heads, Marcus and Mike work with Syd, leading them to Florida drug kingpin Johnny Tapia (Jordi Molla), who has recently acquired all the nightclubs in Miami from owner Alexi (Peter Stormare). Johnny Tapia is using corpses stuffed with drugs, smuggled into the country from Cuba, where he has his base. While their captain, Howard (Joe Pantoliano) runs the risk of having a pressure-related stroke, Mike and Marcus must take the fight to a foreign land in order to rescue a kidnapped Syd and to stop the drugs from entering the United States.
One of the things I used to love about Michael Bay movies, well before I got married, had kids, and re-prioritized my life, was his apparent glee at being paid to film women in skimpy clothing, strong-armed men getting about being all macho, and balls-out action sequences. Before he ever dabbled with Optimus Prime and Shia LaBeouf, Bay concocted a career carved from the chaos of confusion, a cacophony of incoherent clatter created with careful comedy and combustible carnage. Bad Boys’ rough-edged aesthetic never really tipped Bay’s hand at his full capabilities as a director, an orchestrator of the visual spectrum, until he had honed his craft through several successful film projects, the most monumental (and monumentally asinine) being Pearl Harbor, through which his excess and lack of restraint finally overtook his ability to generate excitement. Why have one explosion when you could have a dozen, right?
Bad Boys II is an excessively loud, obnoxious, horrifying journey through Bay’s misogynistic view of life through his sun-kissed camera lens. It’s all huff and bluster, this film, a terribly convoluted plot framed through bikini models and gargantuan gunfire, violent and impactful in its offensiveness and over-eager depiction of women as objects of lust. Don’t get me wrong, I love looking at attractive women and I have been known to enjoy the female form in its various states of undress through my life, but Bay’s use of camerawork here, lusting on scantily clad buttocks, whipping his camera upskirt-style through a nightclub with no less than four female crotches coming into view, is just icky to the extreme. Gratuity is something we’ve now come to expect from Bay, and at the time I saw this originally, I think I was more titillated than turned-off by his fetish for near-nude women. A contributing factor in all this is the script’s insistence in referring to almost all women as “bitches”, as if that word in that context is somehow cool; the real low point, however, comes late in the film, when our two heroes infiltrate a morgue and spend about four minutes discussing the implications of having impure thoughts about a rather hot, busty female corpse.
Even taking into account Bay’s rampant hyper-sexualization of women, of which this film only has one of significant narrative value in Gabrielle Union’s Sydney, Bad Boys II remains a nasty, shrill exercise in extracting minute amounts of “comedy” from the shouty, bangy, explodey extravagance on display. Neither Martin Lawrence, a man I find utterly unfunny, and the normally entertaining Will Smith, hit their straps here, with Smith coming in for an especially egregious “phone it in” performance that lacks bite or wit, or charm. And a charmless Will Smith makes for a hugely awkward “comedy” film. While Smith and Lawrence overact in almost every situation, and all but choke on the absolutely horrendous dialogue they’re given (how much was actually scripted, and how much was riffed on the spot, I’m not sure), Bad Boys II has a smothering layer of gormless hatred filtering any goodness or enjoyment out of it. It’s a hateful film, this one, a film wallowing in the abyss of self-destructive masculine alpha-ness, decidedly offensive to almost everyone, and amusing exactly nobody. Jordi Molla’s cumbersome screen villain never really generates the fear and anxiety the script demands of him, while Joe Pantoliano is about the only truly amusing thing here, as the apoplectic Captain Howard – although he’s as cliched a “screaming police commander” character as you’d ever want in a movie.
For a film running some 2 and a half hours, Bad Boys II takes its sweet time doing anything. The plot to thwart a major drug kingpin is punctuated by lengthy moments of action violence, all of which is filmed in Bay’s usual slick style. As the bullets fly and the shrapnel explodes across the screen, Bay’s camera captures some remarkable footage (probably heightened with visual effects), in particular a breathless car/truck/boat chase down a Miami freeway that simply defies the laws of physics. A tenement shootout between Marcus, Mike, and a bunch of Haitians, with Bay’s camera whizzing around walls, through bullet holes, and creating a sense of hyperbolic frisson, is particularly stylish (it’s a camera move he’d go on to use in future movies from time to time), while a duo of third-act sequences – a terrific mansion destruction sequence, and a frantic crash-n-bash drive through a hillside slum – bring the film to a headache-inducing close of screaming, explosions and a sweet minefield death that’s almost worth the price of admission. Almost. While Bay generally nails the action, the underpinning story and character development is blase, undercooked, and typically over-masculine. Bay’s idea of character development is two black men talking about sexual dysfunction and calling each other “ma niggah”. If that floats your boat, by all means go watch this film.
Bad Boys II is a screaming mess, a hodge-podge of action beats given slick screen treatment without having an ounce of subtlety or actual wit. Aside from one genuinely amusing scene – Marcus and Mike taunt and belittle a young lad who has come to take Marcus’ daughter out on a date – the film sputters through its histrionic comedy, thanks to Will Smith’s doing-this-for-a-paycheck performance, and Martin Lawrence’s inane facial tics (seriously, it’s almost like he has tourettes); you’d be hard pressed to enjoy much of this if it wasn’t for Will Smith’s built-in screen persona, and even then it’s still a stretch. The action is frantic, the story hardly rises above generic, and the overall tone of the movie could be described as “mean”. Yeah, I didn’t really like it back in 2003, and frankly, not much has changed.
© 2014, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.