Monday, December 12, 2016

Heavy Action: Bad Boys II

by Patrick Bromley
Shit just got real.

Bad Boys II is the definitive action trashterpiece of the 2000s and the most Michael Bay movie ever made. It is bloated and indulgent, violent and excessive. It is an ugly, hateful movie -- racist, misogynist and homophobic. It is also thrillingly made at times, offering action set pieces that are bigger and more spectacular than anything else in its class. It is the ne plus ultra of Michael Bay movies: the most confidently made piece of shit in all of action cinema.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reprise their roles as Mike Lowrey and Marcus Bennett, Miami narcotics detectives on the case to bring down Johnny Tapia (Jordi Mollà), the Cuban drug kingpin who is bringing tons of harmful ecstasy into Miami but is untouchable because he sues the department (and wins) every time they try to bust him. Marcus' sister Syd (Gabrielle Union) is also working the case undercover as part of the DEA, as well as having a relationship in secret with Mike. You know, the way adults do. It's all really, really stupid, but at least a lot of people get murdered and a lot of shit gets destroyed.
Since starting to write these "Heavy Action" pieces a few years ago, Bad Boys II has been one of my White Whale movies -- a title I knew I wanted to cover but by which I have been too intimidated and afraid to actually try and get my thoughts down. It's too much movie, and anything this unwieldy and with so much fucked up stuff going on beneath the surface can be a little daunting to really do justice. There are things about the movie I enjoy and then immediately feel dirty for enjoying, because this movie hates me and you and everyone else. Despite these tortured feelings, it's a movie I have seen a handful of times. That's depressing because it is two and a half hours long, meaning at least 10 hours of my life have been spent watching Bad Boys II...a fact that will not be lost upon me when I'm on my deathbed...probably watching Bad Boys II again.

For what is essentially a buddy cop movie -- a weakness of mine, I must admit -- Bad Boys II has a surprising pedigree. It's got Michael Bay directing at the top of his game, determined to shake off the eager-to-please attempt at respectability that was Pearl Harbor by making a movie that is the complete opposite: the most nihilistic, irresponsible action movie he could get to screens. Will Smith, whose leading man career more or less started with his turn in Bay's Bad Boys, is now one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Jerry Bruckheimer returned to produce, now without longtime partner Don Simpson (who died in 1996, leaving behind a body that was 66% cocaine) even though the Simpson/Bruckheimer imprint still appears at the top of the film. The screenplay is by Jerry Stahl (of Permanent Midnight fame) and Ron Shelton, writer and director of Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump and the much better cop movies Dark Blue and Hollywood Homicide. Dr. Dre contributed to the score. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs was the "music consultant." With a $130 million price tag, the budget for the sequel is 500% larger than the first movie, shot for $23 million just eight years prior. The amount of resources behind this movie is fucking staggering.
At the same time, the money is on the screen. The level of insane destruction Michael Bay and his team of stuntmen and 2nd unit directors are able to capture is truly impressive, provided you can divorce yourself from the film's utter disregard for human life and property. There is a car chase in the first hour of the movie in which some Haitian gang members hijack one of those big auto transporter and begin launching full-size cars (and one boat) at the cops in pursuit. This is accomplished by Bay and his team literally tossing cars onto the Miami freeway. It is so over-the-top, so insane in its scale and, yes, so well orchestrated (Bay must agree, as he basically repeated it for The Island) that I can't help but love it...provided I divorce myself from the number of innocent people whose lives are either ended or ruined so that these two cool-ass detectives can destroy some stuff. That goes with the territory when it comes to Bad Boys II: Marcus and Mike Lowrey are the only people in the world who matter, and what they want comes at the expense of every other human being on the planet. The climactic chase down a Cuban hillside and literally through dozens of shacks that are acting as PEOPLE'S FUCKING HOMES is a disgusting display of solipsistic irresponsibility masquerading as an awesome action sequence. This is Michael Bay's world, and fuck anyone who isn't Michael Bay.

Not helping matters this time out is the fact that both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have become completely insufferable in their roles. While not exactly three dimensional in the original movie, enough attention was paid to their characters that we felt like we got to know a) how these two were friends and b) how they were different from one another -- one a family man, one a trust-fund playboy. In theory, those are still the characters they're playing in Bad Boys II, but that's as far as their characterization goes: they have the same names and we should remember them from before. The attempts at "growth" are to have Will Smith start to settle down in secret with his best friend's sister, who I can only assume is like a sister to him as well...so that's messed up...and to have Martin Lawrence get into some self-help mantra chanting and try to soften by apologizing to the people he's hurt, sometimes in the middle of a shootout. Don't worry; he eventually gives in and just punches the guys to whom he's apologizing in the face because this is a Michael Bay movie and only gay pussies say "I'm sorry." All of the dialogue between Mike and Marcus is insufferable; it's nothing more than profanity laden insults and complaining that tries to pass itself off as banter. It's miserable to be in the company of these two.
They're not the only characters who are ugly, though, even though you might expect them to be the least awful what with them being the heroes and all. Sure, they spew racist invective at their fellow cops and refer to a 15-year old kid who shows up to take out Marcus' daughter as the n-word before threatening to rape them, but they're the good guys and Will Smith is a movie star so I guess we're supposed to be charmed by it? When we first meet the villain (played by Jordi Mollà in performance that skirts right up against being entertaining), he's on the phone while two beautiful women lie in bed together behind him. Because of course. One pulls out his gun and accidentally shoots it, then sheepishly apologizes. Mollà rolls his eyes and says "Fucking bitches." Get it? Because women are stupid and can't handle guns! And also they are fucking bitches. Before you argue that we're not meant to take any of this seriously because the words are coming out of the bad guy's mouth, just know that this is the worldview of the entire movie. Most of the women depicted on screen are strippers, club girls or prostitutes, all surgically sculpted and scantily clad, Bay's camera acknowledging them long enough to ogle their legs, breasts and mouths. Another female character is Mollà's sweet but chubby daughter, whose weight becomes the punchline of a joke because fuck her she's fat. Also a child, but first and foremost overweight. At one point, Mike and Marcus have to hide while investigating a mortuary (because the bad guys are hiding drugs inside corpses, so you can add "the dead" to the list of things for which this movie has no respect). Marcus climbs under a sheet next to the body of a woman with large breasts, because in a Michael Bay even the corpses have to be fuckable. I guess the joke is that Marcus can't decide if he's skeeved out or turned on, which is pretty much a metaphor for the entirety of Bad Boys II.

This is why I really think Bad Boys II is Michael Bay's mission statement. I mean, he literally places his "Directed by" credit over the image of a BURNING CROSS. He gets to do everything he loves: stage expensive chaos, blow things up, compose beautiful images and depict every human being on the face of the earth as either worthy of being mocked or among the elite few who get to do the mocking. That Bay tries to pass off this bile as some big joke is even grosser because it attempts to rob the very real ugliness of its weight by suggesting we think it's as funny as he does. It's like when a person tries to tell you a racist joke; first you're offended that the person is a racist, but then you're even more offended that for some reason they thought you would find it funny. That's every Michael Bay movie, but none more so than Bad Boys II. There's a lot of the same ugliness in Bay's Pain & Gain, but it's all couched in the context of a "black comedy" and the characters are all meant to be pathetic, awful people, which grants Bay the latitude of ironic distance. In Bad Boys II, all the same misanthropic, hateful homophobia and racism and misogyny is coming out of the mouths of the two heroes, at least one of which is made to look impossibly cool every single time he's on screen (spoilers: it's Will Smith).
On this most recent rewatch of Bad Boys II, I was struck by how much it reminded me of Lethal Weapon 4. I have been very vocal about how much I dislike that movie over the years for its laziness and the way it feels like it's being plotted on the spot (mostly because it was). Bad Boys II does the same thing: there will be some huge, spectacular action sequence, but then no one bothers to figure out how to get into the next one and we get two or three scenes of Smith and Lawrence sitting around bickering until someone says "We gotta go there and do that thing" and then it's off on the next big storyboarded monstrosity. The script is garbage, which I know is true of most Bay movies but here is especially egregious because Bad Boys II also features the best action the director has ever staged. It's huge and it's incredible, and it goes to show that even when you're crawling through the sewer, you might still see some cool shit. Just be ready for a couple long showers afterwards.

6 comments:

  1. Well now I just feel bad for liking this movie haha. To be fair, I first saw it in high school and it played on a seemingly endless loop on HBO and my friend and I loved it. We still occasionally quote it (none of the awful, hateful stuff I swear) but I can see now that it is really expensive trash. It's like eating too much candy. You love it while you're eating it and then immediately feel terrible afterwards.

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  2. I fondly remember Bad Boys 2 as the first time Will Smith genuinely frightened me.

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  3. Bad Boys 2 is one of my favorite action movies, hell it's one of my favorite movies period. I think it's meanness is fascinating. I don't agree with any of the despicable shit it has to say, but it's totally one man's fucked up vision thrown on the screen. Bay is hard to defend, but I think hes an auteur.

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    1. I totally agree with that. Just because he's despicable doesn't mean he isn't in total mastery of his batshit vision. A buddy of mine worked on one of his Victoria's Secret shoots in Rome. Everything you think about him is true.

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    2. It's one of my favorite action movies as well. Bad Boys II is the kind of movie Pauline Kael might have called "good trash." It's the movie where Michael Bay cemented his aesthetic as a big budget exploitation filmmaker, stuffing these 2 1/2 hours with blaxploitation, hicksploitation, Carsploitation, sexploitation, and even elements of Hong Kong Cinema -- the heroic bloodshed movie, and a car chase THROUGH houses, ripping off Jackie Chan's Police Story. And maybe my sense of humor is just off kilter, I think the comedy in Bad Boys II is hysterical.

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