Bad, Bad Boys
Shoot first ask questions later
By Walter Chaw

It's like going commando, only different.

The very curious thing about Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer's latest dip into the shallow end is that for as vile as it is, for as putrid and unforgivable as it is, Bad Boys II may be the first Bay/Bruckheimer collaboration that marks a clear debt to a filmmaking tradition other than that blazed by John McTiernan in the late 1980s. Sure it's got the slick surfaces and the ear-shattering explosions, the impossible sets (a cop can afford a few acres of prime beachfront property in Florida only in this breed of American mainstream twaddle) and class hatred (complete with fetishistic worship of guns and cars and all other things associated with diminutive penis size)-but what Bad Boys II also has is a child's working knowledge of the incendiary Hong Kong "heroic bloodshed" cinema of the 1980s. What it doesn't have is that genre's sense of gravity, interest in the balance between good and evil, and the mysterious bonds between men-it lacks finesse in its choreography, purpose in its relentless bloodletting- even a basic understanding of decency and honor. Without any recognizable human qualities, then, what Bad Boys II presents to the world is something genuinely sinister and twisted: nothing more than a reptilian collage of seething hatred that stands as possibly the most misanthropic, nihilistic, exploitative, hopeless film ever released as a major studio's mainstream blockbuster. It is easily the most expensive exploitation film in years.

Cut to a night club populated entirely by Penthouse lesbians getting doused by sprinklers in soft porn slow-mo, and the temperature of how women are treated in Bad Boys II is established-so much so that even the throwaway shots include pairs of faceless hard bodies in improbable hot pants. (Best not even to mention the moment when we're invited to jeer at an overweight child, or the appalling scenes of leering at a large-breasted corpse on a slab, referred to, of course, as "the bimbo.") Thankless Gabrielle Union has the honor of being Michael Bay's token semi-positive female meaning that though she'll also spend a lot of time in bikinis and the like, she'll ultimately have the honor of being rescued by the good men who, as it happens, are almost completely indistinguishable from the bad men.

The alleged "good" men are the titular bad boys, cops Mike (Will Smith) and Marcus (Martin Lawrence) assigned to a drug task force captained by type-A personality Capt. Howard (Joe Pantoliano). They're introduced breaking up a Klan rally with an indiscriminate massacre massaged with lots more slow motion and a defenses-battering soundtrack. Plus, there are more lovingly contemplated bullets to the head in this film than Dawn of the Dead.

On the trail of Cuban drug lord Johnny Tapia (Jordi Mollá), Mike and Marcus and undercover DEA agent Sydney (Union, her character also Marcus' sister) wreak a trail of death and devastation with such chilling calculation and expertise that Bad Boys II could easily be turned into a commentary on how murder becomes rote for serial killers had the filmmakers the wit to do so.

Bad Boys II isn't only soulless, it's robotic and mindless in the way a child is when imitating a dangerous adult's murderous tantrum. Bay's camera is in constant circular motion (so that the shootouts have the surreal quality of seeming as though they've been staged on a giant lazy susan), a strategy that has something of a lulling effect favored by the audience that wishes for their escapist dramas to be at once violent and pacifying. Scenes where our wise-cracking sociopathic duo comically interrogate fresh corpses, and comically eviscerate old corpses ("Hey I found something-oops, just his kidney!" Haw!), are nothing compared to a scene where an evil nightclub owner (Peter Stormare) is presented with the remains of his Russian partner vivisected and crammed into a tortilla barrel. Bad Boys II is disgusting-not so much for its remarkable level of gore, but for the insouciant glee with which it indulges in depravity. The picture is a wallow of disturbing messages and images, a film that reinforces every ugly thought that anyone's ever had about anybody (black people, white people, Latinos, women, men)-doing so not because the picture is political, exactly, but because it hasn't the inclination to build character in a talented way, and so resorts to Klansmen and pistolero Rastafarians for the most odious kind of shorthand.

At the end of Bad Boys II, it's possible to draw its connection to 80s Hong Kong cinema into a sociological debate, comparing that culture's collective, apocalyptic melancholy as it slid into Draconian rule under an Orwellian government to our own-but watching the movie from beginning to end is something in which one shouldn't indulge without fair warning of the explosive carnage, of the devastating misogyny and racism, of the arrogant irresponsibility of filmmakers grown fat on an apathetic generation of filmgoers. The most terrifying thing about the film isn't its degeneracy, but that its ability to surprise with its expertly packaged offense approximates something like an illicit coliseum thrill. Tailor-made for that legion of idiots who will defend any kind of dangerous garbage under the aegis of "it's just a movie," Bad Boys II is, ironically, one of those films that every adult should see at some point to gauge their own moral barometers: a prime opportunity to determine the extent to which they've given up on the dream of discretion, and the bracing thrill of outrage