Film Critic Peri Cimen revisits Michael Bay’s original Bad Boys, finding joy in the lead performances, but taking issue with Bay’s directorial habits
Michael Bay’s Bad Boys (1995) is packed full of laughs and gunfire, but its plot is sadly not as memorable as its commercially successful legacy. In a manner that has come to define Bay’s filmmaking, what you see really is what you get; the explosions are big, the visuals are impressive, and the cast are highly credible … but without Martin Lawrence or Will Smith in its title roles, Bad Boys easily could have been a disaster.
Despite living vastly different lifestyles, Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) are two Miami detectives whose lives are flipped, turned upside down (if you’ll pardon the pun) after one hundred million dollars’ worth of heroin is stolen from a police vault. Following the murder of an informant by the man they’re investigating, things get infinitely more complicated when the two are required to swap identities. Marcus must go from a family man to a wealthy bachelor, and Mike must do the reverse, all in order to protect their only surviving witness (Téa Leoni) and get to the bottom of the case.
Bad Boys is a fun and explosion-heavy blockbuster, but it isn’t as technically sound as it is visually striking – in fact, it’s rather clumsily pieced together. The story also leaves something to be desired during its two-hour runtime, salvaged only by the high-energy performances of its leading men. What really stands out the most about Bad Boys, however, is how revered it is despite its shortcomings. As with any Bay film, the shots in Bad Boys are cut together in quick succession and are constantly on the move, but there are far too many of these cuts and tracking shots throughout the entire film. Due to being so instantly noticeable, they’re instantly distracting, and scenes become increasingly difficult to follow. The first half is arguably much stronger than the last, with the narrative seemingly losing its momentum somewhere along the second act, but Bad Boys’ main defeat is that it desperately struggles to stay interesting. Once the narrative trails away, the direction of the film becomes entirely dependent on Smith and Lawrence.
Bad Boys, for some indefinable reason, revels in its seriousness despite being largely unbelievable, and I’m compelled to argue that the film is often entertaining for all of the wrong reasons as a result. There is no regard whatsoever for maintaining the integrity of Mike and Marcus’ jobs – they’re two high-ranking detectives that touch absolutely every item of evidence with un-gloved hands, disrupting several crime scenes – with authenticity being sacrificed for comedic purposes. This is by no means a bad thing, but it makes everything a little less severe. Once their integrity is compromised, you’re expected to suspend your disbelief marginally further than you usually would, and without any real risk befalling our heroes, there becomes hardly any need to pay attention to anything but the fail-safe jokes. The explosive sequences toward the end even begin to resemble white noise after a while, becoming all chaos with no real purpose.
The pop cultural resonance of Bad Boys can therefore be attributed to the talent and charisma of its stars. The film is truly indebted to Will Smith and Martin Lawrence for providing such memorable performances as Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, and it’s doubtful that without them the film ever would have resolved its tonal confusion and found its footing. Smith and Lawrence are engaging performers individually, but they work especially well with one another in Bad Boys to provide positive momentum for the film. Their characters are cool, if a little clumsy, and where the narrative struggles to keep a hold of any interest, their chemistry on screen is instrumental in maintaining audience attention.
Téa Leoni, however, is dealt a rough hand as witness Julie Mott. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that a beautiful, young female lead in a Michael Bay film is disadvantaged by his direction, despite her boundless potential; but even where there are glimmers of ingenuity in Julie, her character is less defined than those of her male co-stars. Her intelligence is executed poorly, making her a largely unlikable character, whilst Mike and Marcus’ imperfections are utilised as valuable comedic currency. She appears ungrateful, impulsive and reckless despite always being one step ahead, and her motivations are often unclear, disallowing the audience the joy of rooting for her. By the time we realise she is working in everyone’s best interests, not simply her own, it is too late to celebrate her courageous achievements.
If you’re partial to frustration over poor female representation or unnecessarily over-edited action sequences, then Bad Boys might not be a great film to watch, or re-watch, any time soon. But if you’re a fan of either Smith or Lawrence – or even Michael Bay, for that matter – then you might well be in for an explosive treat.
Despite a large number of negatives, Bad Boys doesn’t need to be a technically impressive film, or even have a compelling story, it just has to be entertaining – and it is. But that’s all it is – a funny and explosive (albeit slightly boring) action comedy that provided Smith with his status as a highly capable leading man.
Bad Boys and Bad Boys II are available now on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD; Bad Boys For Life is in cinemas now.
Imagery courtesy of Sony Pictures. All rights reserved.