You know, Inner Circle’s song “Bad Boys” is probably responsible for more crap than the rest of reggae combined. And I say that as a man who has never and will probably never be able to get into reggae, no matter how many stoners I may or may not hang out with. Apart from that great commercial for the coming Police State, COPS, we can also thank Inner Circle for Michael Bay’s career as a feature film director.
No, not entirely. But they aren’t exactly blameless. If not for that bad song, this bad film wouldn’t exist. At the very least, it wouldn’t have such a readily marketable title. By the time this premiered, COPS had drilled this song into America’s head with a rusty bit and a slow grind, like something out of…I don’t know…Driller Killer. Is that even real or did I just make it up…? Holy shit, it’s real and I didn’t. The more you know. Add that to the list of films we could all be watching right now…or could’ve been at the time.
Behind Bay, you’ll find producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a man now known as Patient Zero for the CSI Plague. But back in the early-90s, Jerry was stuck in a bit of a rut. His first big wave came in the 80s, when he followed up Flashdance and two Beverly Hills Cop movies with the most homoerotic U.S. Navy commercial since the Village People retired, Top Gun. Jerry and Tom Cat tried to ape that success with Days of Thunder in 1990 but it…sucked. It was the fourth time in a row Tom Cruise shamelessly tried to sell us the same film, a fact so obvious by that point even Roger Ebert deigned to notice it.
Desperate, Jerry plucked a script out of Development Hell originally designed for (of all people) John Lovitz and Dana Carvey, back when the two were still funny. Two Late Night Talk Show writers and the writer of Money Train wound up penning the final draft, so you know this was going to hurt no matter who directed it. But Bruckheimer’s plucking of a young music video director out of Propaganda Studios (the most-honestly named production company in the multiverse) ensured that Bad Boys would hurt even more.
Bay apparently hated the script from Day One. Good thing he cast two comedic veterans who, by this point, were also multi-year veterans of separate TV shows. Martin Lawrence and Will Smith allowed Columbia Pictures to market this film as a comedy, despite the loss of its original stars. Problem is, Bay and the two stars we have treated this whole sad road show as a serious Buddy Cop movie, recalling Bruckheimer’s hayday. This is a serious attempt to market themselves as Serious Action Stars, and much as I hate to admit it, this film served as a springboard for everyone. Funny how Bay and Smith landed in the deep end of sci-fi action extravaganzas while Lawrence cracked his head on the side of the pool. Hence Big Mamma’s House…2…and Like Father, Like Son. I’d like to think Martin’s fate is well deserved, since I’ve always hated the man’s comedy. Whether on stage doing stand-up or pretending to be a DJ, Lawrence always made sure to pad his act with the kind of misogynistic, macho, posturing bullshit drunken comedy club patrons lap up like kittens over milk. For instance:
“I’m married – that’s what being married means: you sleep together, but you don’t get none.”
Both Lawrence and Smith start the film exactly as they end it: bitching at each other while they drive around in a cool car. At sunset. (Take a drink.) In this case, they’re bitching about fast foot. Like Pulp Fiction…if Samuel L. Badass pushed John Revolta out of the car and split himself into a binary being. Neither possess Jackson’s way with language, or the raw physicality and creepy bug-eyes of the actor Lawrence explicitly name drops. Both are hyper conscious of their positions as comedic actors with a lot of melanin attempting to break out of comedy and become Serious Stars. No wonder they teamed up with the man who made Eddie Murphy a Cop Who Doesn’t Play By the Rules. If nothing else, Bad Boys is a perfect piece of marketing synergy. So grab your Tropical Fruit Bubblicious and your Skittles. Time to dive deep into the Bayhem.
Our Heroes are immediately accosted by car jackers as soon as they pull over to argue some more. Lawrence kicks one in the nuts while Smith calls the other a “bitch.” Remember that for later. Now, Lawrence is gloating over his vanquished foe. “Wesley Snipes!” he says. “Passenger 57.” Thanks, Martin. I’ll be sure to put that my (nonexistent) List of Shitty Movies I Might Cover Someday, If Anyone Makes a Request. We’re not even four minutes in, but Bad Boys can’t wait to rip-off and reference other, better Action Movies. Or maybe I’m not giving Madman Mike enough credit. Maybe Bay was trying to be all “deconstructionist” about this. God knows Wes Craven wasn’t the only director trying to break down his genre of choice in the mid-90s…
Except, at its core, Bad Boys is too cliched to be taken seriously, even in its own time. The movie focuses on two Miami PD narcotics detectives: smooth lady’s man Mike Lowery (Smith) and his partner, “happily” married family man Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). It’s interesting to think about who would’ve played whom had Carvey and Lovitz gotten their shit together. Lovitz never struck me as a lady’s man, but Carvey’s not exactly a Grade-A slab of beef, either. For the most part, it’s completely immaterial, since this film uses the personalities of its stars to avoid any actual comedy. Everyone so hated the script, Bay gave Lawrence and Smith free reign to ad-lib, and the result is…actually rather annoying. Instead of the witty, comedic asides and exciting verbal sparing you’d expect from…say…movies with scripts…our two comedians waste their talents arguing over stupid, stupid, plot points.
“Yeah, this was a brilliant design. This is really intelligent; I like this.”
Our Stupid Plot concerns an evidence locker full of heroin, which Our Villains abscond with right out of police headquarters during the Introductory Action Scene (setting up a recurrent theme in Bay’s work). Frustrated by a complete lack of evidence and the very good chance this was an inside job, Mike and Marcus’ stereotypical Shouting Captain (played by Joe Pantoliano – and now we all know what Cypher was up to before Morpheus and Trinity unplugged him) tasks them – and two other incidental cop characters we never learn anything about despite their constant popping up, as if they were actual characters – with finding the horse.
Since Mike is such a lady’s man, his first underworld contact is a call girl named Max (Karen Alexander). Okay, I’ll buy that. Mike asks her to keep an ear out for anyone stupid enough to celebrate their recent Big Score. Hell, I’ll buy that, too. Since this is a contrived action movie, it’s not long before Max gets a call from disgraced ex-cop Eddie Dominguez (Emmanuel Xuereb), who served as the inside man. Gee, good thing we learned his identity so early on. Almost felt a bit of tension, there. Thanks for quashing that, film.
For some reason, Max invites her roommate Julie (Téa Leone) along to Eddie’s little party. Oh, right: it’s so Julie can witness Max and Eddie die at the hands of Eddie’s Villainous Compatriots. Led by the flattest, blandest Bad Guy this side of a mid-period Ah-nold flick: Fouchet (Tchéky Karyo), who has no motivation beyond his lust for drug profits and Evil. Yawn. Oh, and these days, his accent strikes me as decidedly…Wiseauian. Which is great because, otherwise, I’d have nothing to keep me awake.
“So, you know what? Fuck you, and fuck them, and fuck everybody who got a problem with Mike Lowrey!”
“…I love you, man.”
“Fuck you, Marcus.”
Max’s death provides Mike with that always-important Personal Stake in the Action to come. Just how Personal a Stake is left to our imagination. Bad Boys is much more concerned with scenes of Smith and Lawrence arguing than it is with fleshing out its characters. From the look on Mike’s face as he stands over Max’s body, it’s seems Our Villains have killed more than a favorite snitch. Mike wears the look of a man who lost someone near and dear…but the film goes out of its way to throw women at his feet. So what is Mike Lowrey? A badass, playboy cop with a little black book the size of the Yellow Pages? Or a sensitive, conflicted Cop who spends so much time Not Playing by the Rules he has to spend the family inheritance on designer jackets and hookers just to keep from staring into the empty pit that is his life?
Since, by Act Two, it’s like Whatsherface never existed, I vote for the later. Whether Max was just a good friend or Mike’s Regular Friday Night Plans, Julie (who’s an “artist” [i.e., unemployed] rather than a hooker, because it’s not like we want to rip-off Pretty Woman or anything) will serve as Our Real Heroine. Hey, it’s like a Mid-90s Sitcom Star Box Social up in this motherfucker! Somebody, crank the generically EX-TREEM Rock! Up until now, the film’s been alright. Stolen drugs, cops, hot girls, bad guys. Miami. (At sunset, of course.) Textbook Cop Drama stuff, served hot and black, the way I like it…with just a little twist of Bay. But with Julie’s escape from Our Villains (by jumping off a hotel roof into a pool – looks like I wasn’t the only one who bothered to read Jurassic Park after the film came out), Bad Boys reveals its central premise…or “hook,” as they say. And trust me: it’s one of the most annoying hooks in the entire Action genre.
“Don’t be alarmed: we’re negros!”
“Nah, man – there’s too much bass in your voice. That scare white folks. You gotta sound like them. ‘We were wondering if we could borrow some brown shug-er!’“
On account of being knocked out by the Bad Guys (why they don’t kill him is beyond me), Mike’s out of the office when Julie calls to ask for protection. Since movies can’t seem to get the difference between “hysterical” and “stupid,” Julie insists she’ll only talk to Mike and she’ll skip town unless he comes to the phone right now, damnit. What is it about seeing your best friend die in front of you that makes movie-people revert to psychological two-year-olds? I half-expected Julie to start stamping her feet and repeating the word “No!” over and over again.
Captain Cypher convinces Marcus to pretend to be Mike Lowrey in an attempt to coddle their One Witness. Thus, through A Comical Case of Mistaken Identity (one of the most common Cases in all of drama) our main characters are forced to trade lives. This strains their relationship at first but ends up strengthening it as each learns to look past the “grass is always greener” fable and gain new respect the other. It’s a stark examination of heterosexual male bonding at the dawn of New Millennium (or Willennium, as we’d learn to say about four years later), especially given Bad Boy‘s choice to cast two black actors. The African American community’s struggled with homophobia for quite some time. In extreme cases, the fear of being called “gay” by assholes has rendered all forms of affection (physical, mental or spiritual) between hetero guys entirely taboo…and that just hurts everyone…in the end. (Buh-dum-tish.) It’s nice to see two young Hollywood up-and-comers take a bold stance against prejudice and…
Oh, wait: I’m kidding. Bad Boys is a knock-off piece of shit made by a music video director who never left MTV and two Sitcom stars desperate to escape Hell (otherwise known as “television”). I kid them because their Bromance is the only thing in the movie that works…half the time. The rest is just them arguing. Over plot points. Personality quirks. Semantics. Julie’s dogs and the fact they keep shitting on Mike’s carpet. Whether Mike’s schluping Marcus’ wife while Marcus is off getting tempted by the One, stir-crazy Witness. Over what lies Marcus should tell his wife about where he’s been spending his nights. Amazing how boring all this is. But, as the makers of Mystery Men learned (again, about four years later), the ability to tell a joke is no indicator of the ability to ad-lib.
Worse yet, there’s no tension in this situation. The film’s lame excuse for a “conflict” could be resolved with a simple bit of dialogue:
Marcus: Hey, listen: I’m not Mike. When you first called, Mike was off having an action scene. I’m Marcus. That’s Mike, over there. Yeah, dude who looks like the Fresh Prince.
Julie: Oh. Okay. Cool.
Instead, we suffer through interminable scenes of Marcus Burnett trying and failing to be Mike Lowrey, and even more scenes of the two arguing about it. Lawrence has the easier time, having transplanted his sitcom persona into the film pretty much whole. Smith shouts every line he can manage and peppers the rest with so much cursing and double entendres, you won’t even notice how much this sounds like his R-rated Fresh Prince act from the late-80s. The two come across as barely functioning adults, but someone in Miami PD gave them both guns. Personally, I wouldn’t trust either one with a NES Zapper.
Like most institutions in the Bayverse, this Miami PD Narc squad is powered by Unleaded Stupidity. Example: this “at-home protective custody” bullshit Julie blackmails them into. I get that Captain Cypher wants to keep the investigation quiet, but not why “quiet” means “super-special, trust no one, Top Secret.” The justification for this – Captain Cypher fears everyone in his division will lose their jobs over the missing drugs – is flimsy and self-serving at best. Loosing your job over stupid shit is one of a Police Captain’s most important duties! And you’re gonna need all the free time you can get if you’re ever wanna find out the answer to your question, Captain. It is the question that drives us, after all…
“Well, you know if I recall correctly, the last couple dead bad guys belong to you…”
Really, the only thing forcing Lawrence and Leone to share that opulent apartment is comedic contrivance, tagging along with all the action movie contrivances. Like the gratuitous slow motion shots of Will Smith, open shirt billowing around his shoulders like he’s just Hulked-out. Or the gratuitous Magic Hour shots. Or the complete disregard for shot composition that renders each action scene almost completely incoherent. And the camera that moves like its strapped to the back of a fly.
Actually, this is Early Bay, the pre-Armageddon Bay who’d yet to refine his craft. For example, he occasionally allows the tops of his star’s heads to pollute the aesthetic perfection of their EX-TREEM close-ups. Bay also, self-evidently, watched far, far too many action movies. He seemed fearful he’d never get the chance to make another one again (a reasonable assumption, I’ll grant) and so jammed everything he could into silly little waste of time. So Bad Boys feels a lot like a little boy, high on sugar, trying to play with every toy in the sandbox before dinner forces him to – horror of horrors – wash his damn hands.
You could watch Beverly Hills Cop I or II again, instead. Or any one of the first three Lethal Weapon films. That’s five better movies than this one, right off the top of my head, and I’m not even a fan of the genre. Look at Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. See the camaraderie of polar opposites attracting. See its embryonic form in 48 Hours. See real (fake) human relationships develop on screen between two characters who don’t need to kill time stammering the plot out to their bitchy wives.
“Okay…I’m’a…cuz I know what it looks like…did you get my message?”
Now look at the relationship between Smith and Lawrence. Mike is the Mel Gibson character, the loose cannon, while Marcus is married with children (the same number as Murtaugh, if memory serves). Yet both are equally horrible at their jobs. Forget the wandering evidence. How about the gunfights in crowded streets? Or the bodycount each wracks up…and the fact that they’re so callus about it, they actually lampshade it, needling each other with lines like,
“Should we add this to your bodycount or mine?”
Jesus fucking Christ. These two are ice cold killas. I’m starting to think the title has nothing to do with pop songs that specifically address themselves to criminals. These two are the “bad boys” because they’re such awful cops – and such awful human beings – that I can’t even care about their close calls, almost-deaths, incompetently-shot Action Scenes, or all the death and destruction they cause with their multi-day rampage through Miami. One can only hope Dexter Morgan is keeping a close eye on the both of them, and they’ll eventually wind up occupying several trash bags at the bottom of the Atlantic.
“My shit always works, sometimes.”
Yeah, and we only had to wait another decade before that came even close to true, Big Willie.
“If I get killed, I’m fucking you up!”
What, like…are you going to sell your soul to the Malbolgia and come back as a Hellspawn? Hate to break it to ya, Marcus, but…round about the time your partner starts making decent movies, the being formerly known as Al Simmons is gonna fuck Malbolgia up even worse. So you might want to hitch your star to something else.
“Go, goddamnit, go, go, go.”
Oh, crap. So not only is Shia LaDoof a homophobic bad actor who can’t say “No” to horrible scripts or talentless directors…he’s a total plagiarist as well, having lifted Téa Leone’s in-the-heat-of-the-moment-Action Scene dialogue here and transplanted it whole into his Transformers roles.
“You forgot your boarding pass!”
No, no, NO. Even I know you’re doing it all wrong. Face it, Martin: your Action Star career was doomed from the start. Hollywood just ain’t big enough for two black, ex-sitcom stars with funny looking ears.
“Fuck that, I don’t want no brain fragments on me! That shit gets in your clothes and it stinks!”
Shut up! Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!
Okay. Now I feel better.
Except, no, I really don’t. I feel like Martin Lawrence just kicked me in the crotch while Will Smith stood behind him, calling me a “bitch.” The one good scene in the film comes an hour and forty-eight minutes in, as Fouchet lies kneecapped and bleeding at the mercy of Detectives Lowrey and Burnett (and Julie). But mostly Lowrey, who holds a gun to Fouchet’s head.
“See, I’m starting to get the hang of this marksman shit. That shootin’ em from thirty yards while they runnin’ away – nah, that’s not it. Here’s where it is, right here. Point blank. Up close and personal.”
Fouchet plays a Joker card and screams at Mike to put some bullets where his mouth is. And for a moment I actually believed Will Smith capable of murdering an opponent in cold blood. Not that I’m judging. It’s just that, if the movie had actually led up to this point, I might’ve actually given a shit. But we left this Madman Mike’s Personal Stake in this Action back at the end of Act One, with poor, dead Whatshername. Are we really picking it up now, film, after all those gratuitous foot and car chases?
Alright, fine. So Fouchet pulls the other gun we were all waiting for him to pull, giving Mike a textbook, “Dirty” Harry Callahan “Out” to fill the Bad Guy full of lead. There’s no homicide quite like the Justifiable kind. And there’s no cliche too good for Bad Boys, a sick and ugly product of an ailing, evil genre that should’ve died out long before and received a decent burial…next to all those other partners Harry’s planted in the bone orchard.
Here’s hoping everyone went completely insane when they got together and made Bad Boys II. It won’t be good, I know that. I just hope to Hell it’s not this boring. No amount of Skittles is worth suffering through two of these…even if it is better than Armageddon or Pearl Harbor.