More noise than signal

Bad Boys II

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

It takes around ten minutes for the first gratuitous explosion in Bad Boys II which for Michael Bay is a stunning act of restraint. Pyromaniacs should have little cause for alarm however, as the batting average is raised considerably by the time this largely uncalled for sequel staggers to its end two and a half hours later.

I know that I watched the first film in the hopefully short-lived series although I have near enough no recollection of what actually happened in it. I think it revolved around tropical fruit Bubblicious is some form or another. Anyhow, the second film seems to have been created with off-cuts of what was deemed too vapid for inclusion in the earlier effort. Detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) return to our screens after eight years having changed in no significant way since their last outing apart from their assignment to Miami P.D’s T.N.T team, the elite drugs busting operation. Their first assignment of the movie (as doled out by their apparent boss and T.N.T team leader Henry Rollins, although he promptly vanishes after one scene so he can’t have been an important superior officer) is to infiltrate a KKK rally as part of a bust on a new type of Ecstasy tablet operation. Just the assignment you’d naturally give to a couple of black officers. At least they’ve an element of equal opportunity to their stupid ideas.

This devolves into a gunfight affording Will Smith an opportunity to dive around in slow motion firing two handguns, which happens a lot during the rest of the film, and for things to explode, which happens a lot during the rest of the film. After a suitable number of bullets are dispensed they find a meagre haul of drugs and get shouted at by their Captain (Joe Pantoliano), which happens a lot during the rest of the film.

They follow a few leads to eventually find that the drug lord is the Cuban mobster Johnny Tapia (Jordi Molla) and go after him, hindered by an undercover operation being undertaken by Marcus’ sister Sydney (Gabrielle Union). After busting Tapia’s operation Johnny kidnaps Sydney, takes her to Cuba and a selection of T.N.T. team members follow the Bad Boys over to Cuba to free her. Then it ends.

This may seem a glib way to brush over 150 minutes of story but that’s about all there is too it, the plot a thinnest of thin scrapings of butter across the set-piece toast. This might not be that much of a problem were Bad Boys II using a fresh and tasty action loaf, but the bread used by explosion-monger Bay seems to have been baked sometime in the eighties. At times I felt like i was watching someone play GTA: Vice City as the dynamic duo tear around Miami with scant regard for public safety crashing into pretty much everything, then shooting it a few times, then running it over. Frankly it isn’t very satisfying.

As a director Michael Bay has matured less like a fine wine and more like a colony of bacteria. As more money has been thrown at him he’s thrown it directly into the pyro budget and avoided any work on the story, making it difficult to give a monkeys about the fate of any of his badly underwritten heroes. His framing is frequently awful and uniformly annoying, seemingly incapable of a simple establishing shot that doesn’t feel the need to start from an aerial helicopter shot then ‘zoom’ down through a chimney or ventilation system, twisting as many times a possible before stopping in an office somewhere. Even when he’s trying a less flashy approach he still manages to over-egg the pudding, seeming to have a bizarre preference for low angled shots panning to the sky as it rounds the corner of a vehicle which is used so often I would have literally died had I seen it one more time. He frames shots like a man in need of a spirit level.

Whether its Bays or his editor’s fault that the action sequences come across as flat and headache inducing is a matter for their own post-mortems, but it’s our problem. Despite using approximately four million separate camera angles he still manages to miss most of the interesting moments, especially in the frequent car chases. The camera jumps around cutting from reaction shot to reaction shot with barely enough attention played to what they’re reacting to, juddering and bouncing around in a way which may have been kinetic had a more talented director been at the helm. It’s almost motion sickness inducing, ruining what could be spectacular scenes and making them at best pedestrian and at worst intolerable.

When they’re not driving they’re shooting, and Bay uses every technique that John Woo famously overused around twenty years ago and regurgitates a shallow version of them here, no substance and precious little style. Handguns rarely require reloading thanks to some Miami by-law, and he has the sheer nerve to steal the ‘enemies reloading on different side of a wall’ device that Woo so often used. Throughout the movie no matter how many people are shooting or how many people are being shot there’s no sense of danger, of interest, of excitement. Even the explosive finale come across more as a damp squib. A note to anyone thinking of direction an action film – C4 is an explosive. This means it explodes, not turn into some random incendiary fireball thing. There is a difference, although Bay doesn’t seem to realise it.

It all feels very eighties, from the mismatched tough guy cop characters, the dressing downs from the Chief who talks about having the brass up his ass (oo-er, missus) to the sheer brainlessness of the action. Cinema has moved on since then, although to look at this you’d never know it. Smith and Lawrence sleepwalk through their roles, Jordi Molla is utterly ineffective as the badly-accented Cuban super villain and it’s only Pantoliano that can walk out of this with any sort of pride. There’s a decent film in here somewhere to be sure, but it’s about an hour shorter and doesn’t have Bay directing.

Enough ranting. It’s not very good. In fact it’s quite dull for the most part, perhaps had Bay reined it in to around a 100 minutes it would have been better received. As it is there’s a few good laughs, largely from the underused (here and in films generally) Joe Pantoliano, and it has Henry Rollins in it which means I can’t possibly bring myself to give it less than two snowflakes.

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