Director: Michael Bay
Writer: Ron Shelton and Jerry Stahl
Cinematographer: Amir Mokri
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
by Jon Cvack
As mentioned in my thoughts on Bad Boys, Michael Bay will one day be remembered as an artist; someone who reflected the MTV generation by having his films operate with the same lightning pace. After watching the film and praising it with friends I found the same criticism, literally some version of “It’s fun, but a terrible movie”. It’s a completely paradoxical statement - they had fun watching the movie while finding it bad. I can’t think of many films that fit the same description. Die Hard might be the only recent example of a film that’s made the transition from cheeseball action into high craft recognition. I’m confident Bad Boys II will make a similar leap.
While Bad Boys showed a freshmen filmmaker learning his craft, Bad Boys II was Michael Bay four films into his career. Gone is the awkward coverage or cheap action tricks. Bay received nearly $150 million dollars to fully actualize one gigantic set-piece after another, fully capturing it in every beautiful way imaginable. What I think the critical crowd will one day realize is how gorgeous each and every shot is; no matter how few seconds - or frames - it lasts.
The story opens up with Henry Rollins leading a swat team to attack a band of drug smugglers who are using coffins to exchange MDMA for money. Things move from 0-60 in seconds as we watch speed boats dropping coffins into the ocean intercut with the SWAT team getting suited up. They enter the swamps and land on a local KKK group, burning a cross. Two clansmen then remove their masks, revealing Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowery (Will Smith). They hoist up their guns, surrounded by over a dozen clansmen, including Michael Shannon as Floyd Poteet in one of his earliest roles.
Marcus and Mike’s radio fails in calling in the SWAT team and things grow intense. Gunshots are fired and Henry Rollins leads the team in. Dozens of police storm in on boats as the clansmen scramble, complete with a burning cross in the middle. There’s a particular bird’s eye shot of the action; orange near the fire one side and blue on the other. It’s full of moving pieces and is a feast for the senses; it is cinema and money fully utilized.
Amidst the chaos, Mike shoots Marcus in the ass to prevent a clansmen from killing him. So begins the buddy cop “gotta quit” trope. The characters lean into their tropes. Still living off his trust fund, Mike’s exchanged the Porsche for a Ferrari and an even more lush Miami penthouse. Marcus has gotten a modest house next to the water, having just installed a cheap above ground pool where he spends his days recovering from the bullet wound; culminating in Mike scaring the dog which is attached to the pool filter, busting the walls and causing Marcus to float away into the ocean. Again, Bay could have easily gone with a far simpler gag, opting instead for the maximum production value in demonstrating Marcus’ middle-class domesticity. It’s the kind of scene that any studio would cut knowing how much the cost and why Bay is in a league of his own.
We then meet the film’s new character, Marcus’ sister Syd (Gabrielle Union) who we later discover is an undercover agent with the DEA, working on the same MDMA case. Her and Mike have been dating for a few months and Syd’s anxious to tell Marcus, but with Mike knowing Marcus’ disdain (or envy) for his player lifestyle, Mike is reluctant.
We meet the boss of the film, Johnny Tapia (Jordi Mollà), who’s essentially the same character from the latter half of Blow (2001). He meets up with Syd and so the first act passes and we move into two hours of nearly nonstop action. We see an amazing car chase down the spiraling parking garage exit, leading to a chase across a bridge where a car carrier truck releases vehicles one by one. Made in 2003, I struggle to see the line between digital and practical effects, where at no point did I not fully believe Bay loaded up a carrier and had a Ferrari salom through them while driving over 70 mph. I know there’s a line somewhere. I just don't know where it is.
Mike and Marcus soon discover that Tapian has been using dead bodies to store the drugs, resulting in a bizarre and ballsy scene in having them end up at a morgue where Marcus ends up in bed with a beautiful and busty dead woman as Tapian’s men round them up. It’s understandable that critics would shun this scene, but it’s so absurd and oddly sexual, which combined with Marcus and Mike at the peak of their ball-busting never crosses the line. Bay might be the first to create irony with a popcorn action movie.
Somewhere around this point, Marcus learns of Mike and Syd's relationship and reacts exactly as anticipated. Combined with nearly half a dozen brushes with death in a matter of day, he soon tells Marcus he’s filing for a transfer in order to take a desk job. Mike chases him down and in a scene that Roger Ebert spent nearly 20% of his review disparaging, we get the classic moment of Marcus’ daughter’s date arriving, leading Marcus to accost him and for Mike to later pull out his gun, acting wasted on champagne, demanding the boy listen to the rules.
It’s one of those odds scenes that has aged perfectly; often shared on reddit as a great scene, highlighting Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s humor. There’s something so odd about how seriously critics took this moment. It seems at least somewhat bigoted. Two black men mess with another black man, again playing an ironic gangster role; all the more supported in that this was completely improvised and the daughter’s boyfriend had no idea what to expect. It was Will Smith and Martin Lawrence having fun and to spend so much time criticizing this moment seems like a dig at them as much as the filmmakers. Time has provided justice.
During a botched raid on Tapia’s mansion, Mike and Marcus fail to know that Syd’s inside attempting to make the bust. She’s kidnapped and taken to Cuba and so Bay takes us to another absurd and fun final sequence as the pair recruit Henry Rollins and his gang of hyper buff SWAT members who sneak into the country and provide one of the best climatic shoot outs of any modern action movie, utilizing tunnels, bazookas, the Cuban military, and soon having them drive a Humvee through the mansion and then down a hill through the steal huts of the country’s poorest. It’s another scene where you’re left wondering how in the world they achieved it as they are actually driving this Humvee down a hill, crashing through endless amounts of steels huts which explode into hundreds of pieces. Yes, it’s certain that many people died in the scene (in the movie, that is), but again the movie is so ridiculous and it’s never shown, that the deductive logic never distracts you. Bay achieves the miraculous in having us believe the innocent never die.
They soon end up outside of Guantanamo Bay, separated by a minefield. Tapian then arrives and we get a western standoff as everyone points guns at everyone else. Syd throws her pistol and a mine explodes, killing Tapian and we’re taken back to Marcus’s backyard where once again the pool explodes via runaway dog and Mike and Marcus are whisked away into the ocean.
At nearly two and a half hours, Bay somehow makes time disappear. The movie is funny and fun and horrifying and gross and touching and sexy, taking you on a roller coaster of emotions, happening so fast that you never have the chance to get bored. Each shot is designed to pack as much in as it can, engaging us into each and every second. Pure action cinema is meant to be fun. The more fun it is, the better made. This is one of the finest action movies ever made.
BELOW: A scene that really pissed off Ebert
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