Bad Boys II

(2003) ** R
144 min. distributer. Director: Michael Bay. Cast: Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Jordi Molla, Gabrielle Union, Peter Stormare.

In most respects, Bad Boys II improves upon its generic predecessor Bad Boys. But the casual misanthropy and aggressive "humor" cancel out the up-shifted action and newfound confidence, making Bad Boys II the sort of fast-food audiences not-so-secretly crave though they know it's not good for them.

Director Michael Bay and the unexpected screenwriting duo of Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) and Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight) chase their own tails with dispriting calculation. Though the film is in every respect more elaborate than the original by its exponentially larger budget, fancier action, and general multiplicity of villains, gross-outs, and climaxes, these elements also make Bad Boys II even more transparently loud, stupid, and overlong (at a whopping two hours and twenty-four minutes).

The plot finds Miami buddy cops Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) narc-raving-mad over the Ecstasy operation of Cuban-born "Johnny" Tapia (Jordi Mollà). Tapia's mortuary front allows him to smuggle drugs and money in coffins and hollowed-out corpses, and allows Bay to pathologically indulge himself with corporeal antics, like rooting around in internal organs, ogling big-breasted cadavers, and running over stiffs in an extended freeway chase. Joe Pantoliano returns as the amusingly exasperated Captain Howard (a cranky captain--where do they come up with them?!). Not content with one heavily accented villain, the filmmakers add a Rastafarian baddie and a Russian mobster played by the ubiquitous Peter Stormare.

I suppose one can't get sidetracked when there is no track, but Bad Boys II does its darndest, with distracting, prominent product placements, long riffs joking about Smith and Lawrence as apparent homosexuals, and a theme of male overprotectiveness of women (in separate plot threads, Marcus frets over his undercover-cop sister and his dating-age daughter). All of the above feels perversely pitched at the so-called "urban" audience and, worse, all shades of under-age. Though the film is rated "R" (and many have suggested it deserves an NC-17 for its glamorized, fast-car, slo-mo shoot-'em-up brutality), the target audience clearly skews below the 17-year-old belt.

Smith and Lawrence have comic charisma, baleful though it may be in its aggression. But Bad Boys II is less a film than a meandering action demo reel--with its flying Klansmen, tumbling cars, and spinning dolly shots--or crypto-right-wing "policemen of the world" Americana (check out the bombastic Cuban finale). For all this, it's difficult to keep a straight face at the token moments of human drama--it's as if Smith and Lawrence have their fingers crossed below the frame. For the sake of truth in advertising, the franchise's blank refrain "It's what we do" should be replaced by Smith's climactic holler "Alright, everybody start shooting at somebody!"

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