Bad Boys

[23 March 2011]

By Brent McKnight

Just a heads up, don’t expect to see Will Smith or Martin Lawrence anywhere near this Blu-ray release, it’s not that kind of Bad Boys.  This is the 1983 Bad Boys we’re talking about here. 

Before he was the one of the latest elder statesman of left-leaning, politically conscious celebrities, also pre-Madonna and pre-Oscar, Sean Penn was a young Hollywood rebel.  The year after Penn played the iconic surfer-stoner Jeff Spicoli, he showed the world what he could really do as an actor in the role of troubled, violent teen Mick O’Brien in Bad Boys

On the mean streets of Chicago, Mick spends the majority of his energy purse snatching, boosting cars, and generally being a modern urban outlaw.  Modern by 1983 standards, that is.  Occasionally he goes to school or hangs out with his girlfriend J.C. (Ally Sheedy), but generally he’s up to no good, well on his way to becoming a career criminal.  When a drug robbery goes horribly wrong and his best friend Carl (Alan Ruck) winds up dead, Mick flees from the police in a stolen car, only to run over the eight-year-old brother of Paco Moreno (Esai Morales), Mick’s rival, and also the drug dealer he and Carl were trying to rip off.

In juvenile hall, Mick is thrown into the shark tank along with all of the worst of the worst—murderers, rapists, you get the picture.  He befriends his nebbish, fire-bomber cellmate Horowitz (Eric Gurry), and runs afoul of Viking (Clancy Brown), the biggest and baddest of the big and the bad.  Survival is the bottom line in this scenario, and Mick, pushed into a corner, has no choice but to fight his way out by doing things like bludgeoning Viking with a pillowcase stuffed with full soda cans.

It is really the gritty, authentic performances by Penn, Morales, and the rest of the mostly then-unknown cast that allows Bad Boys to transcend the trappings of the teen gang/boys in prison genres and become more than simple exploitation.  These young characters are wounded and hardened by their world, almost beyond redemption, but it is glimpses of the children that they truly are that carry them through.

As Richard Di Lello’s script points out, life boils down to the choices you make.  Mick’s choices have not only damaged his life, but also impacted those he’s left behind on the outside.  J.C. is left put in harms way, and Paco, out to avenge the death of his brother, rapes and tries to kill her, only to find himself in the same prison dormitory as Mick.  Ultimately Mick wants to make the right decisions, to choose the path that will lead him back to freedom, but the hole he’s dug for himself may be too deep.  Will he be able to get out alive and with his soul intact?  He’s a fighter, but is that enough?

As far as bonus features go, the Blu-ray of Bad Boys only comes with one, but it’s a good one, a commentary track with director Rick Rosenthal, who also helmed Halloween II before moving on to a great deal of television work including Buffy.  He is full of stories, like how Penn got roughed up by a Chicago cop who thought he was an actual street tough, and that Rosenthal still owes Amy Heckerling’s mom an acting job because Heckerling gave Rosenthal’s dad a small role in Johnny Dangerously.  There is a ton of insight, as well as a subtle, engaging humor to his track.  Rosenthal is also quick to point out an uncredited walk-through by Jamie Lee Curtis in an enormous wig, which is a nice little tidbit.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/138442-bad-boys/