Just about any concrete cinematic complaint can be leveled against “Bad Boys II.” The script is a mess; the movie is horribly long and atrociously over-directed–and that’s just for a start. But damn it if the film doesn’t work as what it’s supposed to be: a big, brainless blast o’ boom at the box office.
Eight long years have passed since the first “Bad Boys” film, and there’s a certain meta-viewing appeal to the sequel in how it reflects the changes that have taken place in the near-decade. While both bad boys of the title, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, have successfully made the transition from TV sitcom stardom to big screen box office glory, second-billed Smith has leap-frogged over Lawrence to become one of the most popular stars in the world as an action hero. Accordingly, while still top-billed (no doubt a stipulation built into his contract), Lawrence and the broad comic shtick that dominated the first film takes a back seat to Smith’s both-barrels-blazing badassitude. But that switch is completely in line with director Michael Bay’s now-familiar style; since his feature debut with “Bad Boys,” his name has become synonymous with loud, hyper-edited, flamboyantly bombastic screen mayhem.
Bay’s acute awareness of that shallow reputation can be felt all over “Bad Boys II.” After the (deserved) beating he took for his last film, the would-be Oscar bait epic “Pearl Harbor,” “BBII” plays like one huge “f**k you” to his critics by giving them all that they expect from him to the nth degree. Flashy visuals? From the first frames, set in a drug lab, Bay doesn’t skimp on the quick cuts, ridiculously overwrought camera moves or slow motion–all bathed, of course, in the glow of blue light, as in all of producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s films. Loud, over-the-top action? Barely a ten-minute stretch goes by without either something exploding or someone getting shot–in the most overblown (and, in the latter respect, bloodiest and most sadistic) fashion possible. The jokes? Silly and, wherever possible, raunchy. The story? Barely enough to qualify as even a “plot.” “Importance” and or cinematic nutritional value? Are you kidding?
But when one buys a ticket for “Bad Boys II,” that’s what one pays to see. Even with Ron Shelton’s name appearing in the writing credits this time, there’s even less of a narrative than the formulaic identity-switch scenario of the first film: basically, Miami cops Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are out to nab a Cuban drug smuggler (Jordi Molla). Somehow a Russian club owner (Peter Stormare) ties in, as well as Marcus’s DEA agent sister/Mike’s secret love interest (Gabrielle Union)–but how exactly they all fit in isn’t worth trying to figure out, for Bay and company haven’t bothered to. It’s all only one big excuse to string together over two hours’ worth of preposterous but undeniably exciting action sequences, including an explosive gunfight that evolves into a massive highway chase/smash-up; another car chase that somehow involves a truckload of cadavers (!); and one maximum-firepower assault on and in a mansion. Some set pieces don’t work as well as others, namely a close-quarters shootout during which Bay annoyingly refuses to keep the camera still; and a destructive chase through a hillside shanty town that too closely compares (and very unfavorably at that) to the opening sequence of Jackie Chan’s “Police Story.”
Whenever the action lets up, however, Bay takes a breather and just lets Smith and Lawrence play off of each other, and the eight years and varying career and life tracks hasn’t diminished their chemistry in the slightest. The comedy scenarios are obvious and often strained–a big Marcus-on-Ecstasy bit seems to be there only to give Lawrence a moment to call his own; a Mr. Furley-ish bit with Marcus and Mike giving double-entendre-heavy confessionals in an electronic store that stops the story dead–but the two stars’ magnetism and comic chops earn the laughs that may not have otherwise been elicited in lesser hands. The ever-reliable Joe Pantoliano is also good for some choice comic moments as the boys’ ever-frazzled captain, but his return appearance mostly amounts to an extended cameo–another reflection of the time between movies, as the now-ubiquitous Pantoliano’s availability was more than likely limited. Also limited in her screen time is another returnee, Theresa Randle, who has nothing to do this time around as Marcus’s wife. (Seeing her alongside Union also brings to mind the passage of time, for the now-little-seen Randle was, like Union is now, the omnipresent up-and-comer in the mid-’90s period during which “Bad Boys” was released.)
All of these elements may sound very loosely thrown together, and it wouldn’t be off base at all to say that they are. But such is par for the Bruckheimer course (hello, welding/stripping/ballet in “Flashdance”; deep core oil drillers, asteroids and outer space in “Armageddon”?); the question is not if the pieces come together in a coherent fashion, but an entertaining one. “Bad Boys II” is indeed one bloated, loud, frenetic slice of all-around excess, but it’s all in good summertime fun.