Bad Boys II

September 21 2003, 0 Comments

Ok, the problem with Michael Bay is this: he makes everything look so damn good. Like a Coca-Cola advert in the 80’s. Everything is extremely glitzy and appealing. It’s not hard to imagine that he cut his directing teeth making TV commercials and videos for MTV. But while that high-gloss sheen may have done wonders to sell consumer goods and the latest rap albums, all it does for Bad Boys II is paint a very superficial layer onto what is really a soulless film.

That’s not to say that the movie is all bad. As a technical exercise it shows that Bay is not only at the top of his game when it comes to action-flick special effects, but also that he is able to make those visual treats an effective part of the on-screen narrative. A good example for me was the stunning sequence that took place inside the Haitian gang’s hideout. The camera swings incessantly around in a wide arc, seemingly moving through the walls; showing first Will Smith on the one side of the wall, and then the gang on the other side. This allows for some economy by Bay in that he can depict manoeuvring on both sides of the wall without having to resort to the quick cutting that is a staple of such shoot-out scenes. And if you watch closely enough you’ll realise that it wasn’t simply accomplished by clever cinematography: there must have been some nifty work in the editing room too, to get this shot right.

I also like the super slow motion shot of Martin Lawrence getting shot in the butt. Ever since The Matrix, directors have been using those slo-mo bullets for nothing more than eye-candy, and it was nice to see it employed here with a real purpose. The ‘butt-graze’ adds great visual comedy, but at the same time the shot also explains visually for the audience a sequence of events that would have been impossible to depict in real time.

However, beyond the slick camera work, the movie is seriously deficient. One of the great things about the original Bad Boys was the chemistry between Lawrence and Smith. In this film however, much of that is lacking. There is only one scene in the movie where the two of them display any of the bond you’d expect between two friends who have grown up together, worked, and killed together. That was the scene where a 15-year old boy picks up Lawrence’s daughter for a date. The two leads are at their most effective as comics here, but I couldn’t help feeling how out-of-place the scene seemed in the context of the rest of the movie. Was this piece simply slapped on during production to provide Lawrence and Smith a bit of stand-up comedy time?

Another woeful aspect of the film is in the basic plotting of the story. This is a long film and for a significant chunk of the middle of the movie it really tends to drag. When I thought about why I felt so bored during those tedious middle sequences I realised that the screenwriters had made a serious error. For long periods in this movie, absolutely nothing is at stake. What I mean by that is that no character is in jeopardy and that there is little motivation for any of the characters to get involved in the dangerous predicaments that they do. Sure, we know that the two good cops must do their job and catch that bad drug lord, but until Lawrence’s sister (Gabrielle Union) is kidnapped and her life put in danger once again, there is no reason for Smith and Lawrence to take on so much personal risk. We know that Mel Gibson was quite suicidal in Lethal Weapon and you expected that sort of vigilantism from his character. But in Bad Boys II it seems that the characters are led from one scene of carnage to the next simply so that Bay could hold some more pyrotechnic displays and show off a few camera tricks… (but wasn’t that the same feeling you got from Bay’s seriously drawn out butt-number, Pearl Harbour?)

And speaking of carnage, that is the aspect of the film that I hated the most. This movie takes gratuitous violence to a new level. I’m glad that the Captain (Joe Pantoliano in another wise-cracking cop role) really chewed Smith and Lawrence out for that highway rampage of theirs. I couldn’t help picturing the taxi-drivers on our highways in South Africa every time Smith weaved his Ferrari in and out of traffic leaving a trail of broken cars strewn behind him. Those are ordinary citizens whose lives are put in jeopardy folks! Not to mention the countless shoot-outs in busy metropolitan areas that must have done serious collateral damage.
The most appalling scene was where they drive the Hummer jeeps down the side of a hill ploughing through countless rows of shanties in an informal settlement in Cuba. Many South Africans live in shacks like that: it’s all they have in the world. Yet the film shows the wanton destruction almost with a grin…

To sum up, Bad Boys II is more violent, louder and more expensive than the original. But it’s also less funny, less engaging and less memorable than the original too. It will still make millions at the box office though, and Michael Bay will continue to make uninteresting movies. Just because he makes this crap look so damn good…

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