Smith and Lawrence are the good news in 'Bad Boys'

April 07, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

What're you going to do? "Bad Boys" comes for you.

It's almost pointless to review such a juggernaut: It isn't a movie, it's an industrial-strength, turbo-charged money machine bearing down on you at about 70 miles an hour. You don't tell people what's wrong with it, you just get out of the way!

All this would be easier to take if the movie -- no matter how crude, crass, greedy and manipulative -- had just been more likable. It's not very likable at all. That's not to say it isn't funny, but watching it is like being pistol-whipped by a stand-up comic with a really neat gun.

The movie -- if you couldn't guess -- is one of those wild, cop things, a huge caper deal that's so overproduced and over-orchestrated it seems set on the planet Dune. It bears the imprint of its producers far more heavily than its director. They would be Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the dynamic duo responsible for such cash monsters as "Top Gun," "Beverly Hills Cop," "Days of Thunder" and so forth.

Although they've worked with many directors -- the victim here is video guy Michael Bay -- Simpson and Bruckheimer typically mandate that all their works look and feel alike, and operate within the bounds of the formula: hyper-kinetic editing, a soundtrack like an M-16 stuck on full automatic, roiling cumulous clouds of utterly unexplainable fog, and attitude up the kazoo.

The first three are all special effects, and if the bad boys could make a movie with just them, they would. The fourth, alas, requires talent. In this case, the talent belongs to Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, hip TV comics promoted to movie stars who provide a slender core of human reality, and a lot of laughs, as two Miami undercover narcs charged with recovering $100 TTC million in heroin stolen from the police property room by a high-tech Eurotrash mob.

Smith and Lawrence have great comic energy and for at least half an hour are sublimely enjoyable -- until the movie's spirit of bloated gargantuanism takes over. Lawrence is Marcus Burnett, a much-hassled family man who somehow never has sex with his wife and therefore lives right at the edge of irritability. Smith plays Mike Lowrey, an independently wealthy detective who's your basic smooth operator.

The film's best comic invention places them in circumstances -- guarding a flighty, beautiful witness Julie (Tea Leoni) -- in which the family guy has to play Mr. Smooth, while Mr. Smooth plays the family guy. As between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, there's a lot of sass and squabbling, put-downs and takedowns, and the two really appear to enjoy ragging each other as they surf that love-hate, envy-admiration pipeline. Eventually, Leoni gets into the mix, too, and she'll probably be another instant star: More than just a beauty, she's got terrific comic timing. If Smith and Lawrence are Gibson and Glover, she's the Joe Pesci figure.

But these amusements soon get pushed aside by the film's swollen scale. Each action set piece is so inflated and hyper-exaggerated it approaches sheer absurdity, all of it mounted ever more teeteringly on a plot that's more vapors and trace elements than actual occurrences. In fact, the morning after (there's got to be a morning after!), I can remember very little.

Basically, their roles reversed, Mike and Marcus guard Julie against the murder attempts of the mob (she has seen No. 1 guy Tcheky Karyo kill a witness) while attempting to "solve" the case. They ain't Holmes and Watson, Homes. The solution comes in about seven seconds, when someone cracks a computer file just in time for them to get to the point of drug transfer where the kidnapped Julie has also been brought, rather than simply being shot, which until then was the point of the exercise. And why is the bad guy selling heroin to a Colombian drug merchant? That's like bringing coals to Newcastle, no?

This is Tcheky Karyo's first American film after a notable European career (he was in "La Femme Nikita," a similar but much better French version of an American thriller) and though he's all scruffy looks and snarling visage, he's extremely effective given the limits of the part. Simpson and Bruckheimer should give him an extra $7 or $8 million. They won't, of course, but they should.

"Bad Boys"

Starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence

Directed by Michael Bay

Released by Columbia

Rated R (violence, sexual situations, profanity)

** 1/2

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