Bad Boys” (1995) is one of those movies that all my friends watched 100 times (or at least parts of it 100 times) back when watching movies via flipping through TV channels was a thing. For whatever reason, I wasn’t in that group – I’ve never been a channel surfer, and I don’t have a hunger for cop-and-crime films – but I can see the movie’s appeal. As Miami Police Department partners, Martin Lawrence (who is actually top-billed) and Will Smith smoothly transition from sitcoms to the big screen and are totally into the spirit of a screenplay laden with off-the-cuff, curse-filled quips.
Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Smith) are on the tail of criminals who steal bundles of cocaine straight from the Miami PD evidence locker in a boffo opening sequence. There’s no need to get into the politics of the drug war, because “Bad Boys” manages to not broach that subject despite being built around it. The villains – led by Tchéky Karyo as Fouchet – are plenty nasty to keep the film safely away from gray areas.
Owing to the leads’ sitcom backgrounds, the team of four writers gives us a switcheroo comedy in the middle act, as family man Marcus has to pretend to be player Mike (and vice versa) in order to bring in a witness, Julie (Tea Leoni, amid her 15 minutes of fame). Julie will only work with Mike, as per her deceased friend who trusted only Mike. It’s an absurd set-up: They could easily explain to Julie who is who much sooner, thus avoiding confusion and a near marital disaster with Marcus’ wife. But comedy is the point, like when we see Mike rail at Marcus for stashing “a hooker and dogs” in his well-kept condo.
The scene I found the funniest involves haggard-looking Mike, Marcus and Julie stopping at a convenience store and drawing the suspicions of the twitchy clerk (Shaun Toub), who pulls a gun on them in a reverse hold-up. Throw in the clerk’s mangled English threats about how he’s going to blow them (instead of blow them away), and this is respectable R-rated ridiculousness.
Not every attempt at laughs clicks so well, but there’s little time to dwell on that because comedy ultimately gives way to action as “Bad Boys’ ” dominant genre. The directorial debut of Michael Bay, the movie is at the forefront of the era of music-video-style blockbuster direction, with incongruous close-ups, heroic slo-mo reaction shots, and explosions … so many explosions. I don’t know if barrels of explosive gases are truly used in the cutting of cocaine, but they are definitely used in screenplays that abound with explosions. Third-tier bad guys get death scenes worthy of horror-film villains, getting blown sky high or electrocuted, to the point where the only question about Fouchet’s fate is how violently he’s going to die. This is the era when the only difference between action movies and their trailers is that the former are 2 hours longer.
Bay’s pioneering style would eventually reach such excesses in other directors’ films (and arguably his own, too) – including sometimes totally indecipherable action sequences – that audiences bailed on it. But in 1995 this was cool and exciting stuff, and “Bad Boys’ ” sequences, while edge-of-your-seat kinetic, more or less make narrative sense. The fingerprints of Bay-and-Bruckheimer (as in producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who originally teamed with the late Don Simpson) moviemaking remain on today’s actioners, so “Bad Boys” still feels quite modern.
Although “Bad Boys” is never anything to take seriously, it is well made. I love the Miami-ness of the early establishing shots. The dialog isn’t Shakespearean (Mike to Marcus, who’s eating a burger: “Hey, hey, what’s this having-a-picnic shit in my car?”). But Martin and especially Smith curse through it with such gleeful yet harmless abandon that it’s easy to see why people turned out in droves to catch a Smith blockbuster every summer for several years hence. This is quintessential “Hey, they’re just trying to entertain us” moviemaking.