“Bad Boys II” Was Michael Bay’s Directorial Debut
"Bad Boys II" opened July 20, 2003. The film's domestic box office gross was $65,807,024.
“Bad Boys” is a by-the-book action movie for people who love action movies. From the breaches in police procedure, to the snappy dialogue, to the ever so satisfying explosions that Michael Bay has become known for—this is a movie that is sure not to disappoint ardent fans of the genre. Additionally, this movie is great for anyone curious as to how Michael Bay, director of such movies as “The Island”, “Armageddon”, and the up and coming “Transformers”, got his start. If you like car chases, gun fights, explosions, and vicious one-line insults, then “Bad Boys” is sure NOT to disappoint.
One of the greatest cinematic trends of the past twenty years has to be the surge of R-rated action films that invaded American cinema throughout the 80s and 90s. One of the strongest entries into this category is, without a doubt, Michael Bay’s (“The Rock”, “The Island”, “Transformers”) “Bad Boys”. The film, which took place in Miami (one of the absolute action movie capitals for the 90s), was well-made enough to still be relevant in the genre of action movies despite the fact that it was made over ten years ago. Although the main plot leaves something to be desired at times, the real gem in this movie is the significant arc the two main characters make over the course of the film, and the stunning locales don’t hurt either.
“Bad Boys” opens not with the inciting incident to the plot, but rather jumps directly into exposition. Instead of showing the $100M heroin heist (which is the event that pushes all other aspects of the movie forward), Bay chooses instead to introduce the viewer to the two eponymous heroes of the story: Detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) driving along A1A in Mike’s ultra-expensive, excessively fast and exotic Porsche. The dialogue they exchange is nothing short of completely innocuous to the plot as a whole and doesn’t do much to reveal anything but each character’s personality. Lawrence’s character, Marcus, is eating in his partner, Mike’s, car. An argument ensues, they hilarious barbb, and towards the end of the sequence they are able to show the audience how quickly they can go from play to work, when they effortlessly foil an attempt to car-jack them. This scene is crucial to setting up not only the mood and tone for the film, but also the relationship between the two characters. We find out why Smith’s character has money, and Lawrence’s character does not. We find out the sort of dynamic they have: Smith is ultra cool, Lawrence has something a of a Napoleonic Joe Pesci type-of-thing going on; but they have been best friends since childhood it would seem, so despite the incessant blows to one another’s lifestyles (among other things), we the audience know that all is well. It is interesting to note that 90% of the dialogue in that scene was actually improvised at director Bay’s request. It is also noteworthy that the two title characters are played by men who had never done anything but comedy up to this point—a brilliant casting move by producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“Top Gun”, “Pirates of the Caribbean I-III”) which gives the film something substantial to set it apart from the rest of the lot.
Moving into the plot itself, we watch as $100 million worth of heroin is stolen from a police impound at the expense of the life of at least one corrupt cop. The culprit is a Frenchman named Fouchet (Tchéky Karyo), and his intentions are simple: steal the heroin, re-sell it, and leave the country forever for some island paradise. The snag is that one of his lackeys gets the idea to take some of the heroin and party like a rock star at the Biltmore—complete with high-value escorts. Enter Julie Mott (Tea Leoni), an out of work photographer living on her best friend’s (an high-class escort) couch. Due to one bad choice after another, Julie witnesses Fouchet execute his wayward minion AND her best friend, the escort with a heart of a gold and a serious crush on Will Smith’s character, Mike Lowrey. Before long Leoni ends up in the care of both Mike and Marcus, but because of an unfortunate set of circumstance (think Comedy of Errors meets The Tempest), Leoni thinks that Marcus is Mike, and Mike is Marcus. This is comedy gold. When two characters are strongly written enough for an audience to allow them to play each other halfway through a movie is stunning—and they truly pull it off. Every line uttered is like an inside joke between Mike and Marcus. The more they speak, the more it feels like you, the viewer, are friends with them and understand the nuances of their relationship.
From here on in the film follows a fairly straightforward format; they move the main plot along, then have a few gag scenes involving the ridiculous ruse the two heroes have to maintain, then back to the main plot, and so on. This goes on until the climax when not only must the men come clean, but they must now scramble to save the day (as is the case in any good action cop epic).
The action in the movie leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. Films today are becoming notorious for cutting corners by using computer generated everything, so it’s ironically refreshing to see a movie that does car chases with real cars and streets, and real explosions that actually blow things up. Furthermore, all these chases and explosions take place around Miami in the 90s which was (and still is today) a perfectly beautiful, tropical city whose palms trees and beaches do well to juxtapose the often relentless violence of the film. One of the most famous films in the scenes involve Will Smith’s character running shirtless through the streets of South Beach holding only a gun (a definite nod to Mel Gibson and Lethal Weapon), trying to chase down Fouchet as he makes his escape. This scene is good, not only because it shows off the athleticism of one of its heart-throb stars, nor just because it adds an element of exciting tension to the mix after a comedic lull—it’s excellent because the cinematography is fantastic. Various different cameras are used from various angles, cross cutting back and forth in such a way so that the audience never misses a palm tree, art deco-style architecture, the glistening South Florida sun, or in some cases a perfectly restored classic car.
The end of the movie is also a treat in that it provides a very satisfying ending to what is obviously a harrowing journey for all the characters. While I won’t reveal precisely what occurs (though I can’t imagine it’s too hard to guess), the other quite famous shot from this film, as well as Michael Bay’s signature, is a scene where the heroes of the film—torn up from battle—walk in slow-motion towards a camera looking up at them from the ground. Between the waves of heat coming off the tarmac distorting the heroes’ advance, to the dusky sunset in the background, it is undeniably one of the great ‘payoff’ moments in the film.
Undoubtedly the film has its flaws, mainly in its use of some clichés: Joe Pantoliano plays a screaming police lieutenant in charge of Marcus and Mike’s unit—and that’s nothing new to the arena of buddy cop movies; an angry, but good-hearted man, to ground the two main characters and acts as a buffer between them and the top brass (who doesn’t like the city being turned upside down by a melee everyday). There’s also the plot: “something was stolen, we better get it back—and save the girl while we’re at it too.” Then there are some Miami specific clichés, namely the two Cuban police detective that Mike and Marcus trade verbal insults with, but at the end of the day are okay guys that know when it’s time to get down to work. This is the sort of cliché I forgive if only because it adds an authentic (both actors, Julio Oscar Mechoso and Nestor Serrano, are actually Cuban) element of flavor and color to the film; every great buddy cop team needs friendly competitive rivals—it only makes sense that if the film is in Miami, that they both be jovial, boisterous Hispanics.
“Bad Boys” is not just an excellent action film, it is one of the best action films to emerge from an era where there was a new one being put out every month, and most weren’t terribly well-made or engaging. Martin Lawrence and Will Smith’s onscreen chemistry is so good that I would go as far as to say that it rivals the chemistry between the best buddy cop actors/movies. Films like “48 Hours”, and the “Lethal Weapon” series did a great deal to open the doors for a film like Bad Boys; and that fact is not at all lost on the makers of Bad Boys. If nothing else, this film launched the careers of many of today’s movers and shakers: it was Michael Bay’s directorial debut, Jerry Bruckheimer’s return to action since “Top Gun”, and it made Will Smith a household name (if he wasn’t one already). If you’re looking for hard-hitting fast action, breath taking locations, uproariously funny dialogue, and whole lot of fun—you must see “Bad Boys”.
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