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Bad Boys II

Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Gabrielle Union, Joe Pantoliano, Theresa Randle, Jordi Mollà, Peter Storemare, John Salley, Jon Seda

(Columbia Pictures; US DVD: 9 Dec 2003)

It's Physical

“People think it’s all fake, and it’s not. The cars coming off are all real. It’s physical, it’s real, it’s very dangerous.” This is Michael Bay’s description of the infamous freeway chase scene in Bad Boys II, the one where a series of cars slide off a car carrier, cut loose by the chasees to hit the chasers. These last would be the bad boys themselves, Miami detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), cracking wise with each other, while dodging hurtling vehicles.


The director, who went on to make Pearl Harbor, following the first Bay Boys, is clearly back in his element. “The theory of this car chase,” he says, “is to put cameras where cameramen would be killed doing these shots.” Determined to devise outrageous car chases, to up his own ante, as it were, he not only conjured this rambunctious number (producer Jerry Bruckheimer notes, in the same featurette on Columbia’s new DVD of BBII, “Michael had it all pre-vis-ed, where he had computer graphics done on the entire sequence, so he knew exactly what he was going to do”), but also the one that most of the film’s viewers remember all too well (punctuated by corpses flying out the back door of a morgue van), not to mention the Hummer flying down a hill, crashing over and through homes in a shantytown.


In almost every way, Bad Boys II is larger, louder, and longer than the original. It is also more of the same. You might call it the perfect sequel, if you didn’t mind the lack of imagination that such a description presumes. Marcus and Mike annoy Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), and challenge Marcus’ infinitely patient wife (Theresa Randle). They make good fun of their precious, mutual homoerotic charge, Marcus makes faces, and Mike works his superstud mojo. Not a surprise in sight. Surprise: Marcus now has a sister, DEA Agent Syd (Gabrielle Union), so fabulous and charismatic that Mike just can’t contain himself.


Reportedly, this “long awaited” sequel was slow off the blocks because the 1995 original’s players have in the meantime become major movie stars. At the time of Bad Boys‘s release, no one expected two black tv actors to carry a Hollywood buddy film, and Bay was a commercial director just breaking into movies. The nonstop deluge of action and hilarity worked: Bad Boys made much money and the principals’ movie careers were launched.


Unsurprisingly, no one was much interested in altering the successful formula. And so: Marcus remains the nervous nelly as action hero, explaining to the new department shrink that he’s rally not “angry” that Mike is such an egotistical hotshot and has literally, if accidentally, shot him in the ass; Mike, meantime, remains the ladies man, serviced by his younger and prettier shrink, and so earning an A in whatever passes for fit-for-duty grades in the Miami-Dade PD’s Narcotics Division. As if all this isn’t mirthful enough, Marcus is also trying to calm himself by chanting: “Wooo-sa! Wooo-sa,” he exhales, frequently.


The film starts with an appropriately spectacular set piece. As head of TNT (Tactical Narcotics Team), Henry Rollins dons night vision goggles and barks orders to his men awaiting, while Mike and Marcus crash a local Klan’s cross burning, emerging from beneath their “undercover” white hoods with huge guns drawn and low angle camera circling. The boys stumble through the lyrics of the infamous Cops theme song, engage in some n-word-laced banter, then realize that the TNT won’t be coming through as planned. They just have to shoot and explode a whole passel of Klansmen, who slobber and curse according to their type.


To counter these Caucasian cretins, the film offers the middle class black family: Marcus and Theresa with three nice kids, a huge house on the water, and a standup pool of which he is especially fond. As he contemplates de-partnering with selfish Mike, the family invites Mike for a barbeque. Syd arrives from New York, ostensibly on “vacation” but really on an undercover mission. Sadly, she’s confined to scenes that mark Mike and Marcus’ increasing tensions, because she—seemingly sensible—has inexplicably fallen for Mike.


Since the boys so clearly need to work out their relationship, Syd offers the perfect means when her drug-money-laundering deal goes wrong and a car chase ensues. Nothing like a little macho posturing and fast driving to dissipate buddy disagreements. When Syd takes off down the highway, pursued by determined and depraved killers (including one character cleverly called “Blond Dreads” [Kiko Ellsworth]), the boys decide to help, in high speed fashion, driving Mike’s very fast and shiny Porsche. Here comes car chase number one. When a villain commandeers a car carrier, his buddies start pitching cars off the back; they flip and crash noisily and extremely.


Amazingly, the cases they’re all working on overlap: the KKK guys are moving drugs for the same dealer Syd’s trying to bust, one Johnny Tapia (Jordi Mollà), a Cuban immigrant with a daughter, an elderly mother, and a crew of stereotypes (including a poorly used Jon Seda). At the film’s start, he is also retro-invidiously aligned with smarmy Russian club-owner Alexei (Peter Stormare), apparently in place to allow salacious shots of underdressed kids in his club, dancing, kissing, and overdosing, as well as an occasion for Johnny to demonstrate his ferocity (Alexei’s thuggish underling, played by Oleg Taktarov, suffers a horrific death).


Johnny’s sensational scheme to move drugs and money in and out of Cuba, inside dead bodies, grants Bad Boys II excuses for clever vulgarities and horrors. Mike sticks his hands inside assorted corpses’ chests; Marcus hides under a sheet with a big-breasted body; an array of corpses fall off a getaway truck, careening into the camera at street-level, splatting as cars run them over. Indeed, repeatedly, the movie shows it does not know when to quit.


This penchant for excess leaves the film lurching from scene to scene, each its own little moment, with the car chases punctuating the acts, boisterously. And it carries over into the DVD, which disappointingly does not include commentary tracks from its forever busy cast or crew, but instead serves up a separate extras disc, including seven deleted scenes (none missed in the film); Jay-Z and Chris Robinson’s smooth, smart video for “La-la-la”; neat little featurettes on “Stunts” and “Visual Effects” (the film, of course, has lots of both); a series of “Sequence breakdowns” (including storyboards, script, and “on the set” footage, some instructive, especially if you’re thinking about making action movies); “Production Diaries” (for instance, “Swamp,” documenting the Klan shoot-out scene; “Training Days,” wherein Bay and Bruckheimer insist that the actors resemble “real cops,” and so endured weapons and S.W.A.T. training, with the result that Gabrielle won the “shoot-off” at training’s end; “Night club,” focused on directing the extras; and “Get in my office,” featuring Pantoliano’s decision to have the “guys” take off their shoes before they entered Howard’s office).


All of this stuff almost overwhelms what made the first film (and, to a point, the second) bizarrely charming, namely the boys’ friendship. While Smith utters more profanity in this single film than in the rest of his career, Lawrence takes the opportunity to flex his improv chops: a bonding moment that accidentally takes place in front of an electronics store video camera leaves shocked customers gasping at the boys’ intimacy issues (Marcus is concerned that, following an accident on the job, he’s been left “flaccid,” and Mike suggests that they maintain a “boundaries box”); Marcus’ ingestion of two ecstasy pills leads him to fondle his own nipples and express his true love for Mike; and Marcus acts out Lawrence’s own aversion to rats when M & M pose as exterminators to infiltrate Johnny’s infested mansion. Soon Marcus is at the end of his rope, announcing, “This has been the worst, most emotional cop week of my life!”


As funny as these emotional calisthenics are supposed to be, they are decidedly less riveting than the action—and everyone knows it. Thus, the film takes the structure of a musical, with dialogue scenes only serving to move you from one action piece to another. By the time they take off for Cuba (entering the third mini-movie within the movie), and drive a humvee down a hill full of shacks, the film’s sheer outrageousness, not to mention its outrageous class politics, is fully visible. For this invasion, they need extra firepower and get it, including useful high tech surveillance courtesy of the CIA: this is undoubtedly Bad Boys II‘s most excessive fantasy, that this agency has its act together.


And still, despite and because of the film’s tedious surfeit—all the raging testosterone, the expensive rides, the fiery explosions, the too-earnest payback—it is the only franchise during this franchise summer to feature two black stars (three if you count Union’s minimal, though typically fine contribution). Bad Boys II, with its unapologetic focus on independent, appealing, and ecstatically aggressive black men, is so pleased with itself, it hardly matters what anyone else thinks.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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