Thursday, December 29, 2016

Side by Side: BAD BOYS (1995) vs. BAD BOYS II (2003)

Welcome to another installment of SIDE BY SIDE, where we dissect the differences and similarities between two films, be it a remake/reboot with its original, a sequel with its original, or two similar movies. This week we're looking at Michael Bay's seminal buddy-cop explodo-fest BAD BOYS, and its sequel, the aptly-named BAD BOYS II.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. The Bad Boys movies are the standard by which I judge cop movies. Cop movies are, almost uniformly, an exercise in the ongoing fantasy of the long arm of the law being able to go to any lengths to apprehend the lawbreakers and, so, make the world a little safer for the rest of us. So it's no surprise that, to varying degrees, they show the heroes at their center being willing to break away from protocol to take down the bad guys. The Bad Boys movies take this formula and run with it, treating us to two very big, crazy, funny, and quotable action movie experiences.

The original Bad Boys, released in 1995, was also Michael Bay's debut as a film director after a brief career directing music videos. The story involves a robbery at a Miami police station where 200 kilograms of heroin, taken in a prior bust, are stolen from the station's evidence lockup. Detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowry (Will Smith) are put on the case to recover the stolen dope. It quickly comes to light that the two have only 72 hours to do so, as the criminals who stole the dope plan to sell it in that time. In a break from cop movie tradition, Burnett and Lowry will manage to solve the case without being put on suspension, or visiting a strip club.

Comedy trappings aside, Bad Boys tries to be a semi-legitimate police procedural. Lowry and Burnett follow leads, engage informants, and generally try to do some cop work to resolve the case. Things don't take a turn for the comically wacky until one of Mike's informants, a high-class hooker, is killed by the mastermind of the robbery, a man named Fuchet (foo-SHAY, Tcheky Karyo), during an altercation between Fuchet and a henchman who had gone off the reservation. The hooker's friend Julie (Tea Leoni) sees the whole thing and escapes. She goes to the cops, which brings her Marcus, but she'll only talk to Mike. Mike is unavailable, so Marcus ends up having to impersonate Mike for most of the movie to keep their only witness, their only lead, from blowing town. The situation the two find themselves in after this is as complicated as that was to read, but watching Marcus try to keep Julie in check and maintain his cover is one of the better parts of the movie.

Julie herself represents the film's weak point for me, as she represents the usual ways that Hollywood gets the concept of a "strong woman" wrong. When things are going okay, she's belligerent, even combative to Marcus. But when this behavior gets her into trouble, who does she look to for rescue? She's a pain-in-the-ass Olive Oyl to Mike and Marcus's collective Popeye, and for most of the movie she's just an irritating plot device.

This complaint gets corrected in 2003's Bad Boys II with a much more solid female lead in the form of Syd (Gabrielle Union), Marcus's sister and Mike's love interest. Syd does undercover work for the DEA, and it is instantly clear to us that she's very good at her job. She's smart, confident, and Union's portrayal of the character is just a joy to watch. She's not made out to be a super-woman, but even in a moment of weakness (after a hit by a local gang forces her to use her gun in the line of duty for the first time) she's shaken up without collapsing.

As for the rest of the story, Mike and Marcus have moved up in the world (way up, judging by the swanky house Marcus now lives in), and are now working for the Tactical Narcotics Team (TNT), a specialized drug enforcement unit within the Miami PD. There's another big-time drug kingpin out there, a Cuban ecstasy pusher named Johnny Tapia (Jordi Molla). How Tapia is managing to ship his dope into the US, and get the money out to Cuba, is one of the big reveals of the movie, so I won't spoil it here, but I will say that it's weirdly brilliant.

Bad Boys II is very much more of what people think of when they imagine a Michael Bay movie. There are more and bigger gunfights and car chases this time around, including an extended freeway chase that every action movie fan should see. Somehow the writing is even snappier than the first one. Martin Lawrence and Will Smith turn in performances that define the movie.

The movie itself is big and loud, but not entirely dumb. As I said, the villian actually has a pretty clever plot going, and there is still some cop work involved. But there's a reason why Nick Frost's Constable Butterman spoke so highly of this movie in Hot Fuzz: if you like action movies, you need to see Bad Boys II. You don't even need to have seen the first one to appreciate it.

Robert's Scores: 
Bad Boys: 6 / 10 
Bad Boys II: 9 / 10

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