Wednesday 21 September 2011

Bad Boys (1995)


We all know about the buddy cop movie formula, right? That thing where two mismatched individuals get put together to solve a crime within an allotted time limit, where their initial hostility towards each other is overcome by working together on a common problem. Both don’t even have to be cops for it to work. It can be Cop/Cop (Lethal Weapon), Cop/Criminal (48 Hrs), Cop/Child (Cop and a Half), Cop/Dog (Turner & Hooch), Cop/Alien (Alien Nation)… as long as they have two conflicting personalities, then it’s all good. For the feature debut of Michael Bay, he turned his hand to this type of story. Two cops: one family man; one playboy. For this, they brought together two of the hippest comedy actors to let the bullets and cool quips fly.

When a massive amount of drugs is stolen directly from police headquarters, Detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowery (Will Smith) are given 72 hours to find those responsible and get the drugs back before the Internal Affairs division steps in. When a friend of Mike’s winds up being killed by the very people responsible, a witness comes forward, Julie Mott (Téa Leoni), but she’ll only deal with Mike. When Mike isn’t around, Marcus is forced to pretend to be Mike to secure the witness and find their way to the bad guys.

There’s something of a weird journey as to how Bad Boys came to being. The legendary producer partnership of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson was working on a property called Bulletproof Hearts, a cop buddy movie comedy set to star Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz, who were both riding high on their popularity on Saturday Night Live. Both actors were all ready to get things rolling, but before they got started, Simpson wanted to take them both to Las Vegas for a celebratory blowout, a big party to mark the beginnings of their journey. Now, for those that don’t know, Don Simpson was renowned for his wild excess and hedonistic extravagance. Believe me, if only a quarter of the stories I’ve read about him are true, the guy was a lunatic. Such was his apparently wild ways that Carvey backed out completely, wanting nothing to do with Simpson. This threw the project back down again, leaving Bruckheimer and Simpson to begin searching for their lead pair again, since Lovitz had already begun to lose some of his popularity by this point. As it is, they weren’t exactly broken up about the experience. They had similar problems with another project about 10 years before with Sylvester Stallone… but we’ll get to that one on another day. So, they went on the hunt for new stars, and to find a director to bring them a big box office smash - enter Michael Bay.

This was indeed Michael Bay’s first feature film, although he wasn’t exactly struggling to break into the industry when someone decided to take a chance on an enthusiastic youngster. Bay was already a very successful director of music videos and television commercials when Bruckheimer and Simpson tapped him for the job. Likely they were both very impressed with his visual style and flair (it’s the one thing even the most avid Bay-hater must concede), though I imagine it was Simpson who felt most drawn to Bay’s talent for heavy stylisation and excess. However, it’s clearly in film that he wanted to work, the place where everything can be bigger. When Bay came aboard, he became quite instrumental in assembling the right pieces for the picture, and helping to point things in the right direction. Yes, for all of his inanity, he really can set a fine table before blowing the merry hell out of it. For example, it was Bay’s choice to bring Will Smith on board, which automatically increased the cool credibility and style of the film by about 42%. When both Smith and Martin Lawrence were solidified as the new leads, the script was rewritten to reflect the new talent on offer. However, that’s where things fall flat.

The script is either stupid, dull or just by-the-numbers. As I mentioned before, Bad Boys is a buddy cop movie, but never strays from this formulaic approach. This could be because it had to be rewritten for a whole new approach and new actors, so they simply fell back on cliché and stock characters to pad things out and get it finished. And it’s so unnecessarily complicated and stupid. Go back up and read that plot synopsis for a second… Drugs stolen directly from police headquarters, which required someone to dress as a cop only to be killed as a distraction? Why? The murder attracts one helicopter and a few patrol cars, which is hardly representative of a whole police force. The actual robbery itself is complete bullshit. For example, when the thieves want to get into the evidence cage, it’s locked with a padlock and chain. As such, they spray the padlock with a freezing substance and shatter it. However, the thing they use to shatter the lock is a bolt-cutter, which could have broken the padlock just as easily. Later on, a hooker friend of one of the investigating detectives is murdered by the same people responsible. When the bad guy, Fouchet, shoots her, he does it through a cushion to muffle the sound. However, he then orders one of his own men shot, but no cushion is used. When the gang spot Julie hiding in the balcony above, they all start blasting away, sans silencers. If you didn’t care about the noisy gunfire, why bother with the cushion in the first place? And why leave such clear evidence of the drugs heist in the room when you leave? When Mike discovers his friend’s death, he has a more personal motivation in finding the killer, because it’s not enough that he should just want to do his job. But then why have his whole speech about how seriously he takes the job? Surely this would be the golden opportunity to prove, once and for all, that he is more dedicated than anyone to catching criminals. This personal angle is unnecessary, formulaic and compromises this earlier scene. Giving him his due, though, even Bay hated the script, telling both Smith and Lawrence to improvise around the gist of what the film needed rather than follow the dialogue they had been given.

The characters themselves are all straight out of the handbook on hack writing. Comically mismatched partners? Check. Gruff, angry Captain who yells a lot? Check. Foreign bad guy? Check. Internal Affairs breathing down everyone’s neck? Check. One cop always going on about how he sees so little of his wife? Check. If it weren’t for the strong and energetic performances from Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, this would be one dry film. However, one of the biggest crimes is the character of Julie Mott, played by Téa Leoni. She is skull-crushingly stupid. After having just seen her best friend murdered in front of her eyes, she calls the cops to say that she will only testify if she deals exclusively with a detective she has never seen (though he has been vaguely described to her), and if she doesn’t get this, she’ll run… I’m sorry, what? I understand the need to find a safe place, but she just said she’s basically letting her friend’s murderer get away. Considering she spends the rest of the movie crying about how she loved her friend, or trying to get people to acknowledge the tragedy, or trying to get her own revenge, deciding that she’s going to up sticks unless she gets her way is just bizarre. In the scene where she decides to follow the detectives into a bar where the bad guys hang out and kill them herself is idiotic on its own, but to then spend the ensuing gunfight and car chase screaming about how ‘this isn’t safe’ is a stupidity that is just jaw-dropping. She actually yells at Mike and Marcus, who are busy dodging bullets and other cars at the time, “You call this protective custody?” No, they don’t call this protective custody. They told you to stay safely ensconced at Mike’s place. Just stay there, that’s it. You decided to steal a gun and follow them into the crowded, noisy bullet-fest. And every time they tell her to stay put, she wanders off, complaining that’s she being treated more like a prisoner than the one that's responsible for the death of her best blah blah blah blah… goddamn, I’m sick of it. And there’s such a weird ambiguity to some parts. There are times where you think that perhaps she knows that Mike and Marcus have swapped places, but this occasionally gives the feeling that she’s not exactly the nicest of people. Back at Mike’s place with Marcus, post-gunfight, she alludes to the whole endeavour making her feel a bit horny, which then segues into her talking about how Mike’s “wife” will likely be getting satisfied by such a strong, take-charge kind of man. Now, it could be that she honestly doesn’t know, and is just babbling about all this, in which case she really is an idiot. Or, as the slight smirk on Leoni’s face would suggest, she does know, and is just messing with Marcus’ mind because… she’s kind of a cruel bitch. The guy has literally just saved your life and got you to a safehouse, and your reaction is to suggest to him that his friend is having sex with his wife? What the hell is wrong with you?

I could go on, but I’ll stop now to make my more general point. All of these details - the crappy characterisation, the idiotic plotting, the abysmal dialogue, the overall desire to make things look good rather than make sense - go towards establishing something rather common in Michael Bay films, which I harped on about quite a bit in talking about Armageddon. Bay’s films only work if you disengage your brain completely from what you’re watching. Now, I’m fine with big silly entertainment, but there is a big difference between silly and stupid. I know that, sometimes all you want is for something to wash over you, go boom-bang-zoom-splat and that’s the end of it. However, with Michael Bay’s work, by using even a little common sense or a modicum of logic on proceedings, you end up completely unravelling everything. The best you can hope for are some nice visuals and a heavy dose of onscreen charisma. If you get it, great; but if you don’t, it’s a hollow, disposable nothing. You can get some entertainment from these films, but they ultimately take from you much more than they give.

Bad Boys is sort of enjoyable enough as a dumb action movie, but it really can only exist as such. Despite a great show from the two leads, as well as a handful of good supporting turns, particularly from Joe Pantoliano, the whole thing is blitheringly stupid. The story is unnecessarily convoluted, numerous shots and actions make absolutely no sense, and the character of Julie is so unbelievably brainless that it’s amazing to believe that such a character made it onscreen without at least one person raising concerns. Once again, it’s a Michael Bay movie that requires the absolute least amount of cerebral activity. Just watch, laugh, and smile giddily when things go boom and we’ll see you all for Bad Boys II… oh Christ.

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