Some movie lovers can easily pick and choose what they want to consume when it comes to a film series. Not me. When I sit down to spend time with a series, as long as the first few installments interest me, I am in it for the long haul. Sometimes this results in what I like to call “cinemasochism”. Other times I end up finding a diamond in the rough. The only way to know for sure is to consume it all, tolerate the poison, and report back my findings. Now it’s time for you to sit back, relax, and let this Cineater imbibe whole franchises in order to sniff out which entries are actually worth your time. My first subject: Bad Boys!
Bad Boys (1995)
Directed by Michael Bay
Produced by Don Simpson & Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenplay by Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland, and Doug Richardson
Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Tea Leoni, Tcheky Karyo, Theresa Randle, and Joe Pantoliano
While the late 1980s did not give birth to the “buddy action movie”, it certainly revived that particular adrenaline-fueled subgenre in a very big way. From big guns like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard to forgotten gems like Running Scared and Shakedown, it was less a fad and more a genuine movement. Even Jay Leno starred in one (Collision Course)!
Cut to the ’90s and the subgenre continued to chug along. By 1995, we’d had three a piece of the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard franchises and countless one-offs taking up shelf space at the local video store. So it’s really know surprised that action movie mavens Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer decided it was a good idea to pair up two TV stars for a shot at launching a new franchise. Enter “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, he of “Martin” fame.
In hindsight, it’s easy to declare this a genius piece of decision-making. After all, both actors have gone on to have successful careers as movie stars and the Bad Boys saga is currently riding high again. The success of this 1995 actioner helped cement all of that. I’m not interested in its legacy, however. I’m interested in how Bad Boys holds up as a film on its own.
It does, with caveats. If you are looking for one of the best examples of the “buddy action” movie, or more specific the “buddy cop” movie, you’re not going to find it here. On that level, Bad Boys is as cliched and trope-ridden as the come. Aside from a few interesting shots that director Michael Bay conjures up, it’s a pretty pedestrian and forgettable affair. Bay would eventually go on to become one of the most dynamic action filmmakers we have today, but as far as Bad Boys goes, this is more of a stock Simpson/Bruckheimer joint. The classic Bay flourishes have not yet been fully-formed. It feels less like trademark “Bayhem” and more like a somewhat bland riff on Tony Scott’s late ’80s/early ’90s aesthetic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It merely means that this movie lacks its own sense of identity.
What makes this film stand out is its cast. First off, you have a nice parade of character actors like Kim Coates, Julio Oscar Machoso, Kevin Corrigan, Shaun Taub, and Michael Imperioli popping their heads in and out of the picture. Sometimes that can be enough to make an actioner like this entertaining, but luckily we have a strong leading cast to keep us invested as well. Will Smith has and will always be an incredibly charming performer. He brings his A-game here and it goes a long way towards smoothing over the film’s deficiencies. Martin Lawrence manages to match his charisma and together they make an enticing pair. I know I said I wouldn’t focus on the franchise’s overall legacy here, but it’s really no wonder that this series is still thriving today. These two are made for each other.
Joe Pantoliano is in fine form as the requisite angry police captain who is equally tired of his superstar cops’ bullshit and also in desperate need of their trademark shenanigans to solve the big case at hand. That case centers around a drug heist (and some homicides) perpetrated by a villain Tcheky Karyo. Also known for his performances in gems like La Femme Nikita, GoldenEye, and Kiss of the Dragon, the always-dependable Turkish actor hands us a big bad here who is as elegant as he is deadly.
As for our female leads, Bad Boys has three in sizable roles. Tea Leoni plays the lead, a murder witness that Smith’s Mike Lowrey and Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett must protect. To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Leoni as a performer, but she does a pretty good job here nonetheless. Theresa Randle brings a touch of class to the proceedings as Marcus’ wife, Theresa; filling out one of the more entertaining sideplots at play within the film.
Less important but still peppered throughout is Marg Helgenberger’s Internal Affairs captain, who sadly gives the only performance that bothers me. Even in the face of the occasional clunky line of dialogue, the rest of the above performers are able to rise above any writing deficiencies. Helgenberger, however, is not and dishes out one of the most wooden turns I have seen in movie of this type. Sorry Marg! You’ve been great elsewhere!
Bad Boys may not be a shining example of its particular subgenre, but it is still an important film. This is ground zero for the cinematic careers of Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and Michael Bay. It may not be an all-timer, but it has earned its place in movie history and should be respected for that. Besides, it ultimately lead to a raucously entertaining sequel 8 years later!
Next up? 2003’s gonzo Bayhem opus, Bad Boys II.