August 2, 2003

Lights, camera, OR action

Although the top two movies at the box office last weekend were both action-comedies produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, they're really at opposite ends of the spectrum. Pirates of the Caribbean is a throwback to blockbuster movies that were driven by story. Its focus lies firmly on its characters--swordfights, sea battles, and undead armies accent the narrative rather than create it. Bad Boys 2, on the other hand, is driven by a succession of ornate action sequences and the star power of its cast, the comedic duo of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. To paraphrase Agent Smith: One of these franchises has a future, and one of them does not.

Now, I'm not some arrogant elitist who gets off by lambasting movies that are clearly designed as distractions. I'll gladly watch films like Shanghai Noon, Old School, and Wet Hot American Summer over and over again. Unfortunately, if I watched Bad Boys 2 over and over again, I'd probably age 20 years. At a staggering two hours and thirty minutes (and that's not including the previews), director Michael Bay has turned what could have been a light, harmless action flick into a big bloated monster. Nothing has been edited in this movie. Scenes linger on for virtually forever, action scenes are carelessly tossed in without context, and Bay continuously cuts back to characters that don't develop, but fester. The ridiculous length wouldn't be a problem, though, if the film didn't have such terrible momentum. Bad Boys 2 repeats the cycle of story scene, action scene, comedy scene, until it completely loses its steam.

Anyway, Bad Boys 2 (hey, no long subtitle! Thank God for small favors) re-teams neurotic family man Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) with smooth playboy Mike Lowrey (Will Smith). As partners on the Miami police force, they are called in to investigate the flow of ecstasy into shady nightclubs. The evil mastermind behind it all is trigger-happy Johnny Tapia (Jordi Molla), who is looking to expand his business at any cost. There's also a clich├ęd subplot involving Mike secretly romancing Marcus's little sister, Sydney (ultra-sexy Gabrielle Union). Much to the chagrin of her big brother, Sydney has become a DEA agent, and all three plunge into the madness together.

Director Michael Bay (The Rock) has a flair for sweeping camera shots and stunning eye candy that could easily make a very kick-ass action movie. However, here he is so hell-bent on engaging his audience that it's almost pathetic. For no particular reason, Bad Boys 2 is laced with gratuitous shock value that the first one wisely lacked: Corpses spill from an ambulance and are torn apart by oncoming cars; bullets puncture skin in glorious Matrix-style slow motion; the top of a cadaver's head pops off, revealing juicy gray brains. Now, I love gore as much as the next person-probably more-but all of this is completely unnecessary and extremely out of place in an action/comedy. The fact that the only nudity in this movie comes from a pale female corpse also does not sit too easily with this red-blooded American male.

The shit also hits the fan in terms of comedy. Both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are gifted comic-actors, so why don't the filmmakers polish their material? For every good comedic premise, such as the two outlandishly harassing a young suitor for Lawrence's daughter, there is a bad one like a horrible running gag of hotheaded characters cooling down by chanting the goofy word "Woo-za." This word graces many of the characters' dialogue, and apparently, the filmmakers think it's funny. It's not. The entire movie is filled with similar gross miscalculations. In the end, a villain demands that Sydney drop her gun, and a super slow-mo shot shows it fall on a landmine in front of him-however, this only happens after Sydney exclaims "Yeah, I'll drop my gun...right on that landmine!" This line could only be considered clever and/or necessary to an audience of severely retarded chimps on crack. To anyone else, it's downright patronizing.

I realize a negative review of Bad Boys 2 might not be particularly original. However, I think the current state of Hollywood action movies is very interesting. Quentin Tarantino recently announced that his 3 hour kung-fu epic Kill Bill will be released as two 90 minute parts, and I have to wonder: Is it because, like Pirates of the Caribbean, it has a story that can't be cut shorter? Or is it because, like Bad Boys 2, nobody would be able to stomach it for that long in one sitting? And what about Indiana Jones 4? I still have faith in Spielberg, but Lucas seems like he'd love to shove 61-year-old Harrison Ford in front of blue screen for its entirety. I think there exist two kinds of action movies today-the story-based action movie a la Indiana Jones, and the spectacle based action movie a la XXX. And with one of each dueling each other at the box-office right now, it'll be interesting to see who wins.