The criminal activity onscreen in “Bulletproof” is penny ante compared with the felonious slaughter of story, character and logic exacted by the pic’s filmmakers. A rehash of such freewheeling buddy actioners as “48 HRS.” and “Midnight Run,” the new film is bigger and louder than its antecedents, but a league behind on the entertainment meter. Strictly programmer fare, pic is for die-hard, indiscriminate action fans and goes on the fast track to pay cable and video following a brief theatrical window.
The yarn centers on undercover cop Jack Carter (Damon Wayans), aka Keats, who’s fallen in with smalltime carjacker Archie Moses (Adam Sandler). Archie’s also been running drugs for Frank Colton (James Caan), television’s used-car king, and brings Keats and Carter along for the ride.
Carter heads to his precinct to work out the details for a sting that will net the entire gang. But the operation is a bust: The cop’s exposed, Colton never shows, and, in the ensuing mayhem, Archie accidentally shoots his former friend in the head and makes a hasty retreat before the police or mobsters can pick up his scent.
The screenplay, credited to Joe Gayton and Lewis Colick, provides an elaborate but unsatisfying setup. The action picks up months later, with Carter out of physical therapy and fitted with a metal plate in his head.
He learns that Archie’s tired of running and wants to turn state’s evidence, his only conditions being that his former partner in crime do the pickup and put him in protective custody. Carter, who believes Archie deliberately shot him, is mystified by the request but reluctantly agrees to the deal.
Getting from the drop point in Arizona to Los Angeles proves more difficult than expected. There’s obviously someone in the inner circle who’s a mole for Colton and makes sure the duo is dogged by all manner of assassins.
The pursuit is the most reasoned aspect of “Bulletproof.” But the script seriously goes awry in its attempts to grapple with such uppercase issues as friendship, loyalty and betrayal.
But the most serious lapse is the introduction of a predatory femme fatale. She arrives without explanation, as if her presence was a dictate of the genre. While the filmmakers prove inept at conveying a betrayal in the script, they brilliantly commit one upon an audience expecting a good time.
Though ably enough mounted and crafted by Ernest Dickerson, some of pic’s visuals and most of the audio track are a sensory assault. There’s a particularly disappointing music score from the distinguished Elmer Bernstein. And the high-decibel song score points out the down-side of digital — the overbearing music can be segmented in such a way that the inane dialogue can be heard, rather than mercifully drowned out.
Sandler seems woefully out of place. His puppy-dog quality gets tiresome quickly in the action setting and strains one’s belief in an innate ability to dodge bullets. Wayans at least suggests he might swim in these waters, given better material. Supporting cast members range from underused to poorly employed. It’s arguable which category Caan falls into as an aging cousin of Sonny Corleone.
“Bulletproof” is riddled with holes of every description. Though seemingly sprightly in length, it’s not pretty to watch it slowly bleed to a conclusion.