There’s a throwback feel to “Bad Boys II,” the latest combustible collaboration between producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay – and not just back to 1995, when the original “Bad Boys” was released.
It has the virtue of being the first big-budget Hollywood action film of the summer that’s not dependent on wall-to-wall CGI — no superheroes being chased around by computerized cartoons here; there are actual stunts performed by actual stuntmen, and actual cars crashing and actual buildings being demolished. In fact, with the charismatic Will Smith and Martin Lawrence trading sharp repartee layered with the male-patterned boldness that is a trademark of Ron Shelton’s screenplays, “Bad Boys II” is sooo late ‘80s-early ‘90s, when a “Die Hard” or “Lethal Weapon” movie would pack ‘em in.
That makes it, frankly, sooo welcome. It may be the most winning, smile-inducing Hollywood action flick of the summer.
Mind you, being “Bruckheimered” is often a headache-inducing, vacuous experience, and being “Bruckheimered and Bay’d” – well, let’s not go into that. Think of being “Bruckheimered” times 10. So it is a strange and wondrous feeling to realize that two of the best times to be had in a theater this summer have come in the past couple of weeks, both courtesy of Bruckheimer (first up was the fun-filled Pirates of the Caribbean, quite ably reviewed elsewhere on this site).
Yes – “Bad Boys II” is a loud, silly action film, and yes, yes – it is waaay too long, checking in at 150 minutes (comparable to the running times of “The English Patient” and “Out of Africa,” and even longer than “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and this is a movie with essentially nothing to say. Nevertheless, with Smith’s and Lawrence’s effortless chemistry and Bay lending an almost Hong Kong style and energy to this movie (an improvement over his leaden direction of Armageddon or “The Rock”), there’s no drag during these two-and-a-half hours.
Detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) storm a Ku Klux Klan meeting, complete with cross burning, and replace “white power” with “blue power.” But when the sheets hit the fan, turns out the white supremacists are the lower rung in an ecstasy ladder that runs straight up to a Cuban drug dealer (a too over-the-top Jordi Molla).
The plot isn’t much to get, er, ecstatic about – 25 years ago this would have been a 90-minute film, a decade ago it would have been 110 minutes — but the $100 million-plus action epics of today demand the false endings and silly twists that pump up the running time to more than two hours, and it is again a weakness here. But the good news is that, according to Entertainment Weekly magazine, there were all kinds of far more ridiculous scripts, including stories that had Mike and Marcus going to Paris and London, before Bruckheimer and Bay called in Shelton for a more standard, tooth-and-nails plot that kept them in Miami.
The other piece of good news is that, as mentioned above, Bay has gone all Hong Kong on our a*s. Bay has Smith shooting with a gun in each hand, a la Chow Yun-Fat; a creative twist on the car/truck sequences in “Tokyo Raiders” and “The Transporter”; bullet-time tracking; and a rumble through dilapidated Cuban shacks that’s suspiciously like Jackie Chan careening through a tenement at the beginning of “Police Story.” All of which has to have caused who knows how many civilian casualties, but the Hong Kong director’s No. 1 rule is: Never mind about collateral damage.
Well, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Bay was always addicted to style, but many of the shootouts and action scenes in “The Rock,” for example, were utterly incoherent. “Bad Boys II,” however, always imparts a good sense of geography, and while Bay still has a strong fetish for hardware and weaponry (glossy shots of churning helicopters against a gorgeous sunset, hyped-up in the lab, no doubt), his camera seems lighter, breezier, more self-assured.
Perhaps capitalizing on the natural talents of Smith and Lawrence are a big part of Bay’s strategy, but still, high marks for making an action flick worthy of a John McTiernan, if not a John Woo.