Bad Boys II

September 18th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Starring: Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Joe Pantoliano, Gabrielle Union

Director: Michael Bay

Joel Schumacher had the right idea. He reinvigorated the flagging Batman franchise with Batman Forever, but after the critical and box office flop that was Batman and Robin, critics and audiences the world over were ready to string him up.

Instead of plugging away at big studio colour-by-numbers projects and hiding behind studio press releases desperately trying to convince critics he was still exercising creative control, he reinvented himself with well written, small-scale character movies like Flawless, Tigerland and Phone Booth.

Michael Bay’s career followed a similar curve in the late 1990s. After cleaning up at the box office with the original Bad Boys (even if the critics were scathing), he and buddy Jerry Bruckheimer spent more and more money, won bigger returns from studios and made more audiences gag with their simpering American flag waving in Armageddon and Pearl Harbour.

He could have gone the way of Joel Schumacher and turned his attention to a small vanity film, at least to garner some critical praise. But with Jerry Bruckheimer writing you a blank cheque once a day, what would you do? Exactly — get more stuntmen shot, blow more shit up, trash more cars and hire the hottest new scripter in town — Ron Shelton (writer/director of Hollywood Homicide) — to tailor your movie to the buddy antics of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith.

Was it a bad move? If you hated the first Bad Boys, you’ll want to avoid this like one of the many pileups that feature throughout the two and three quarter hour running time.

If you love laughing and clutching your seat like you’re strapped into the Ferrari with Marcus and Mike as they chase down a city full of drug running scumbags, you’ll love it. For a purely visceral experience, it works as good as any movie made this year.

Despite his recent career choices making him look like he has the acting talent of a packet of lard, the script reminds us that Martin Lawrence has a good sense of comedy, especially with Will Smith to bounce off. They share a strong comic chemistry that forms the basis of almost all the laughs, and you will laugh — plenty of the jokes aren’t Hollywood saw-that-coming-a-mile-away funny, they’re a genuine scream, made all the more so for the talent between the two leads.

Everything and everyone else is mostly eye candy, except for the action sequences. Featuring the kind of destruction that would make worldwide news in real life, nothing and (almost) nobody escapes unscathed — cars are totalled in their dozens and gunfights blow villains away (in scenes of pretty full-on bloodshed). And the whole time, we’ve got centre stage thanks to blistering camerawork that puts us inches from the hyperkinetic motion.

Some creative flourishes in the direction even lift Bad Boys II above the usual action fare — the camera floats around the scene at impossible angles (inspired by the virtual cinematography of The Matrix, no doubt) and gives us a breathtaking perspective on the action.

The plot, as expected, can be written on the head of a thimble. Marcus (Lawrence) and Mike (Smith) get caught up with a sleazy Cuban drug dealer operating a mortuary for his front — transporting the drugs inside the corpses. To complicate matters, Marcus’ sister and Mike’s new lover (Union) is messed up too, as a DEA agent trying to get close to the villain.

The only downside is a completely over the top last half-hour that could easily have been shed with no loss to the rest of the movie. In fact, the tone and design of the movie shifts a little uncomfortably, all for the sake of one more action sequence that’s just too over the top (if that’s possible).

It’s hard to know what’s faster and bigger, the lightning quips from the leading men or the full-throttle thrills. But that’s what the Bad Boys franchise (now that it is one) is all about. Living up to the genre of ‘action comedy’ with a vengeance, it’s good hearted, exciting fun on the mindless side of cinema.

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