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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 theatrical: 18 Jul 2003; 2003)

Manifest Energy

Larger, louder, longer. In Bad Boys II, Miami detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are back big time, doing just what you know they’ll do. In fact, you might almost lay out the sequel yourself: here they annoy their white captain (Joe Pantoliano) and there, Marcus’ infinitely patient wife (Theresa Randle); there they make fun of the homoerotic charge that underlies their pretty boy partnership; there Marcus makes funny faces; and here, Mike works his superstud mojo. Not a surprise in sight. Unless you count that Marcus now has a sister, DEA Agent Syd (Gabrielle Union), so fabulous and charismatic that she makes the whole “boys” concept look mostly old-fashioned.


Reportedly, this “long awaited” sequel was slow off the blocks because the 1995 original’s players have in the meantime become major movie stars (while their schedules have surely been filled, their fees have also escalated). At the time of Bad Boys‘s release, no one expected two black tv actors to carry a Hollywood buddy film (at the time, “interracial” was as far as the previously white, pre-Jackie Chan genre had gone), and Michael Bay was a commercial director just breaking into movies. The nonstop deluge of action and hilarity worked: Bad Boys made much money ($141 million worldwide) and the principals’ movie careers were launched.


Where the first film was by turns formulaic and dizzy (especially in Lawrence’s impersonations of his partner’s player-cop routine), Number Two reflects a sustained confidence, and lots more formula. For all its manifest energy, Ron Shelton and Jerry Stahl’s screenplay tends to creak along, piling up plot-proof stunts and repeating the same sorts of character “conflicts” that apparently worked so well the first time.


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 when he gets upset: “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 (this particular technique is one of Bay’s favorites, and he uses it again and again and again in this film, as if to make up for the lack of actual narrative movement). Mike and Marcus stumble through the infamous Cops theme song, engage in some n-word-laced banter, then realize (oh no!) 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 wifey 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 Mike (he’s requested a transfer: gee, do you think he’ll go through with it?), the family and Mike have 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. Voila: car chase number one (out of many). When one of the villains commandeers as a new-car carrier, his buddies start pitching cars off the back; they flip and roll, crash and smash, so noisily and extremely that the (admittedly lengthy) scene steps up the Matrix Reloaded digitized highway biz considerably (Martin Lawrence has said in interviews that cars actually flipped over his head while making the film: if this is the case, he’s earned his millions).


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 all sorts of 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. You get the idea: all these cadavers make for great, visceral gross-outs, to be sure, but they don’t do much for developing characters or storylines.


As the movie is not only directed by the ham-handed Bay but also produced by the King of Overkill, Jerry Bruckheimer, it emphatically does not know when to quit. (There at least three finales in it, and the first, coming about 90 minutes into this 144 minute enterprise, seems most effective.) The penchant for excess leaves the film lurching from scene to scene, each its own little moment, with the car chases punctuating the acts, boisterously.


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 agree on 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, running over and through rooftops, 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 outrageous 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). Coming amid today’s disturbing Helpful-Magical-Solicitous Negro trend (wherein black characters show up only to serve white ones), Bad Boys II, with its unapologetic focus on independent, appealing, and ecstatically aggressive black men, seems a more remarkable feat than it would otherwise.

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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