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Non-Review Review: Bad Boys

Watching Bad Boys is a strange experience. On one hand, it’s a smooth reminder of the odd-couple cop comedies that were the style of the eighties, right down to an angry and exasperated (but ultimately trusting) chief. On the other, it has adopted all the stylistic mannerisms of the big, bold and empty action movies of the nineties. Advertised as an action comedy, it really doesn’t contain enough of either to justify a watch, and many of its stylistic ticks – driven by an inexperienced Michael Bay – have either been surpassed or become so common that they seem trite. Still, there’s a small charm to the film, most of which stems from the chemistry between the two leads and the way the movie seems to consciously revel in bromantic undertones of the genre. In that regard, it’s ahead of its time. And unlike all of its original ahead-of-it-time selling points, the bromantic angle still works. I’m just not sure that enough of the rest of the movie works to justify it. 

I wish I could say the action was explosive...

I never thought I’d say this about Michael Bay, but he has really matured. Yes, you read that right. Sure, there’s a long way yet to go, but Bad Boys seems more than a little antsy and uncertain. There is no hint of any sort of restraint. Every moment is milked. Unlike, say, The Rock, where just the vast majority of moments are milked. If I were to ask you how much slow motion and jagged cuts you’d need in a ten-second sequence showing a bad guy shooting an escort, I’m fairly certain it would be less than what Michael Bay inserted into that short sequence. Later on in the movie, Martin Lawrence finds himself facing down an oncoming car (at regular speed), while Will Smith is running towards him in slow motion with his shirt open. “He’ll never make it at that speed!” I protested.

The truth is that most of the film has dated terribly. Take for example the night club Hell. I’m sure it looked great at the time, with its fish tanks and multi-levelling viewing booths. Now it looks like something from a low-budget television pilot. Will Smith spends the movie wandering around in what looks like cast off from Don Johnson’s wardrobe in Miami Vice. The original, not the modernised and heartless remake. The car chases (and there are a lot of them) really don’t stand the test of time, unlike, say, Bay’s work The Rock and Armageddon – both of which have action scenes which hold up well.

The plot and acting are fairly terrible as well. Tea Leone is… just terrible. None of the bad guys have any real presence and it’s just interesting to spot recognisable television starts, but that’s about it. The first thing I noted on watching was how strange a world 1995 was. Remember when Martin Lawrence got top billing over Will Smith?  That was 1995. In fairness, Joe Pantaliano is fairly awesome if underused. But then it was Shia LaBeouf of all people who remarked that Michael Bay is not an actor’s director.

The plot follows the robbery of a large amount of cocaine from police storage. Naturally our two eponymous bad boys must crack the case and recover the drugs. When one of their informants is killed by the people who stole the drugs, her roommate is the only witness. Expedience leads one of the pair to pretend to be the other, with hilarious results. Admittedly, it’s the buddy dynamic which really succeeds in this particular film. Perhaps the greates pop culture impact of Bad Boys occurs during the British comedy Hot Fuzz. Two bonding police officers sit down for a marathon of homoerotic-tension-filled buddy cop movies, including Bad Boys II, even appropriating the line “sh!t just got real”.

The two characters aren’t really characters so much as a collection of quirks. Will Smith is the neat, wealthy ladies’ man, while Martin Lawrence is the loose-cannon family man. Will Smith is clearly the stronger performer, but he does manage to create a bond with Lawrence, which is essential since both must carry the movie. There’s a scene which slyly alludes to the ‘bromantic’ nature of the film – the witness jokingly suggests that the pair are lovers. It’s a wink towards the audience in a movie where two men can unashamedly tell each other “I love you” (more than once) and refer to each other as “a nagging wife”“You always be getting all emotional after gunfights,” Smith observes at one point, alluding to the venting of frustrations in explosive combat, before the two men are sufficiently drained of testorone to express their feelings. They look out for each other, caring after the loss of a confidant. When an affair is intimated between the single man and his partner’s wife, it’s a greater emotional betrayal between the two men. The married cop does not confront his wife, he instead engages in some outdoor wrestling with his male colleague. At one point they are wearing each other’s clothes. While impersonating his partner, the chief instructs Martin Lawrence to “sound sexier”.

There’s not really enough to recommend the movie as an action movie or a comedy. Even the one liners are not up to scratch – “you forgot your boarding pass,” one officer quips on blowing up an airplane. Bad Boys is arguably more interesting because it seems well-worn and tired, best approached as piece of nostalgia. The trappings of the nineties summer blockbusters would not be fully formed until The Rock arrived in cinemas, but we can see many of them emerging here, as clearly as we can feel the buddy dynamics and cop routines from the eights slowly fade away. Bad Boys captures the moment of a genre in transition, like a snap shot oif a loved one at puberty. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s still recognisable.

This was the moment the action movie just got real.

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