Throwback Thursday: Lawrence and Smith continue to elevate the material in funnier, stupider ‘Bad Boys II’ (2003) (Movie review)

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he most fun-to-watch (and possibly the most fun-to-make) parts of “Bad Boys” (1995) are the action sequences, and that’s again the case in the sequel. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that returning director Michael Bay and the four writers of “Bad Boys II” (2003) came up with action sequences first, then strung a loose screenplay around them.

I didn’t follow the plot of this movie as well as I did the first one, which suffers less from the Bay-and-Bruckheimer biggening of blockbusters (even though it launched Bay’s career). Still, the sequel’s action sequences are pretty great, and “Bad Boys II” also has a lot of laughs – plus it introduces Gabrielle Union to the franchise.

Often times in this film, the epicness of the action is equivalent to its unlikeliness, which is amusing at first but grows grating by the final act of what feels like a four-act movie. Miami PD partners Mike (Will Smith) and Marcus (Martin Lawrence) chase drug dealers along the highway in Mike’s luxury speedster. The bad guys somehow get aboard a car hauler and start cutting the chains. Cars go tumbling off the back, hurtling and flipping toward Mike and Marcus. Meanwhile, Syd (Union) – an undercover DEA agent who is also Marcus’ sister and Mike’s girlfriend – is also driving an SUV amid this melee.

The stupidity of this situation is multifold, but to start listing why such a scenario wouldn’t happen in real life would be to miss the point of “Bad Boys II.” Nothing is quite as big as the highway chase with the projectile cars, but later we get a multi-car pileup like if kiddie bumper cars were a real-life thing, followed by a “Heat”-like street shootout, except with time for quips to illustrate that this is no big deal to Mike.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that returning director Michael Bay and the four writers of “Bad Boys II” came up with action sequences first, then strung a loose screenplay around them.

And in the final act, Mike drives an SUV through a Cuban hillside village in a fashion that makes no Earthly logical sense. Even Mike’s quips seem more tired by this point – he says he’s on to “Plan C” in the hunt for the drug dealers – and I began to wonder why the franchise didn’t save some of this expensive spectacle for another sequel. Maybe they could’ve filmed two movies together and made more of a box-office haul.

Still, in its 147-minute runtime, “Bad Boys II” allows space for Smith and Lawrence to do their thing. While none of the writers (Ron Shelton and Jerry Stahl, working from a story by Shelton and Marianne and Cormac Wibberley) worked on the first film, they know the Mike-and-Marcus banter is this franchise’s glue. And they add a nice wrinkle here: Almost like an audience surrogate, Marcus is bummed out by all the violence and near-death experiences that seem to be water off Mike’s back. Smith was the bigger star by this point (unlike in the first film), but he’s the straight man here while Lawrence showcases his comedic chops.

While it’s not as crisply crafted, “Bad Boys II” reminds me slightly of “Dumb and Dumber” with the wild set-ups of its gags. Among the highlights are an electronics-store sequence where the partners have a heart-to-heart about how Marcus has been in the dumps since Mike accidentally shot him in the buttocks during the movie’s opening drug raid of KKK members (Hey, it sets the movie’s tone). Their chat gets broadcast to the store’s patrons, who misinterpret everything. Another great set piece is in a mortuary, where Mike is all business in digging packets of drugs out of corpses, and Marcus can’t keep it together.

The set-ups are definitely forced – none more so than when the partners go undercover as exterminators and the drug dealers conveniently are expecting exterminators – but it’s never not fun to watch Smith and Lawrence do their thing. Some times are more fun than others, though. “Bad Boys II” opens with a shot of an overseas Xtasy factory, and I knew right then that one of the cops would end up accidentally dosed. The payoff isn’t worth the wait, in this case.

And other moments have a “throw it at the screen” feel, such as a random cameo by Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino and pretty much the whole performance by Peter Stormare, who it seems was asked to reprise his “Armageddon” role, if he was a drug lord instead of an astronaut.

Union is watchable in everything she’s in, but she’s underused here. Syd is just as professionally sound as the boys are (although not as crazy as Mike nor as shaky as Marcus), as “Bad Boys II” consciously makes sure she isn’t an old-school damsel in distress. At the same time, Syd does fill the narrative function of needing to be rescued, and she also fits the clichéd role of a main character’s under-defined love interest. It’s too bad Mike and Syd don’t have more depth than merely two pretty people who are dating.

Julie (Tea Leoni) from “Bad Boys” served the same function as Syd, but she actually was an old-school damsel, and therefore things flowed better. Next month, though, the franchise is ready for Syd to become a full-fledged character in the TV series “L.A.’s Finest” (premiering May 13 on Spectrum). Union will team up with Jessica Alba as a Los Angeles cop in a series that continues the recent trend of women incongruously and humorously acting like the guys. “L.A.’s Finest” will perhaps do for comedic cop actioners what “Blockers” did for sex comedies and “Never Goin’ Back” did for stoner comedies.

Then the guys will return next year with the third movie, “Bad Boys For Life.” If it can combine the high-level action sequences of “Bad Boys II” with the much more coherent plot of the original, it will be the series’ best entry.