“This is what we do.”
Amid the exploding cars and shotguns blasting point-blank through eyeballs, Will Smith says that at least four times in Bad Boys II, and as far as catchphrases go, it’s got nothing on “Where’s the Beef?” But “This is what we do” is a pretty accurate assessment of Bad Boys II and a lot of movies like Bad Boys II, of which there are far too many.
What they do is repeat themselves endlessly. What they do, eventually, is take themselves too seriously. What they do, naturally, is do things in slow motion. Smith and partner Martin Lawrence do a lot in slow motion, with a deep bass rumbling over the soundtrack to indicate drama and provide the idea something is happening: Bad Boys talk on the phone in slow motion, Bad Boys open doors in slow motion, Bad Boys empty machine guns in slow motion, Bad Boys sit in slow motion.
Bad Boys II can only be the latest action film from Michael Bay, who followed up the original Bad Boys (his first film), with The Rock, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor. Few multiplex-friendly directors have the chutzpah to splash on such wretched excess. He is a shameless, chaotic filmmaker who never met a sunset he didn’t want to stick a silhouetted helicopter in front of (whirring in slow motion). He also loves sending teams of roughriders in slo mo toward the camera, guns limp in their holsters, padding out movies that are all padding, all the time.
His career has the shape of an elaborate act of self-love. But with Bad Boys II, Bay scales back, goes back to the garden, meaning he works on a $75 million budget and rehashes his high concept and removes as much pretense as he can bear to part with.
Which is not much. Like the first film, this is basically a generic buddy cop movie and an episode of Miami Vice fused together, towing a trunk of old boring ideas and pointless camera tricks. Bad Boys II could stand to learn an invaluable Hollywood lesson: More is less.
Slow motion can be very cool, very Hong Kong action, in small doses – bullets look great falling like snowflakes – but when you make a movie like Bad Boys II and it runs, no joke, TWO AND A HALF HOURS LOOOOONG, the last thing you need is to extend things. The production notes say Bay spent four months in Miami shooting this film, which only helps lend the final product the air of being the world’s most expensive series of vacation photos.
Those notes also list nine assistants for Smith, 10 for Lawrence, five for Bay, and six for his humble longtime producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Excess is the abiding principle here.
Which leads to an unintentional laugh when Bay finds room to have Will say, “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.” Methinks fine Hollywood princes doth protest too much.
Their movie looks spectacular. But that high-gloss hard sell comes off so empty it only starts to underline just how routine and numbing the movie actually is; The Simpsons have been making fun of junk like this for two decades.
A camera entering a Miami nightclub, for instance, is not just a camera entering a Miami nightclub, but a camera soaring through helicopter rotors, down a rooftop air conditioner, down a vent, through ducts, grates, down a chute, onto a dance floor, through pairs of legs, and, leeringly, up one, two, three skirts.
A cross burning at a KKK rally is shot in the same loving glow as Will and Martin floating in an inner-tube on a sun-kissed Miami river. A man dying in the gutter is not far removed from those heroin-chic fashion layouts of the ’90s; this guy gets as much art direction as Will in purple Armani comically bickering with Martin about his datable sister (Gabrielle Union).
Make that endlessly bickering. The story is this: Will and Martin are back as Mike and Marcus, and they’re on the trail of a Cuban ecstasy dealer who is cornering the Miami market. That’s about it. Mike shoots Marcus in the rump. That leads to prolonged back-and-forth about Marcus leaving the Bad Boys (he’s Danny Glover to Smith’s Mel Gibson). Mike has a romance with Syd (Union), an undercover cop on the trail of Russians who’ve run afoul of the Cuban thug. That leads to Marcus whining more about leaving the Bad Boys.
After all, the threat posed by the villains is moot. Justice will prevail. “We’ve gone high-tech over the water,” a police chief tells his officers, who I guess would have obviously known they’ve “gone high-tech over the water,” but perhaps I’m wrong. When the Cuban (Jordi Molla) and the Russian (Peter Stormare) hold a rare summit, it’s unintentionally played more like a historical moment for the buddy cop genre: every Eurotrash-Latin crime lord clich under one tent.
Humor might have been fine, too, but the actors play their roles for more fun than Bay seems willing to allow. Whatever summer movie lightness there is – and there is considerable charm from the good cast, along with one exciting chase scene involving a bridge, a Ferrari, and a trailer transport losing its load of automobiles – has to fight its way out from underneath the crush of production overkill. Lawrence, for one, gives a genuinely weary and unpretentious performance that is at odds with practically everything else in the movie, if not especially Smith’s increasingly one-note characters and shouts of “Whoo!”
Once again Lawrence and Smith are wasted on an exhausted story recycled from other Bruckheimer films like Beverly Hills Cop. (One comical bit of revisionism is how Lawrence gets billing over Smith.) Once again Bay piles on stunts and explosions and keeps suggesting a Whoa Moment that’ll knock your socks off. And again he flubs it by cutting everything together like a movie trailer:
Scenes start well, then become flashes and quick pans and zooms racing in on faces. I suppose the idea is to replicate the thrill. But those camera tricks suck any momentum out of this thing. A friend of mine recently installed a DVD player in his car. He watches the first Bad Boys movie on his way to the gym. He will love Bad Boys II – it may be the first film that can only be enjoyed during red lights.