As overblown as it is overlong, “Bad Boys II” is an enervating case of more is less. A simple cop buddy movie, really no different narratively than an old “Miami Vice” episode, extended to unconscionable length in order to accommodate redundant action scenes, endless banter between stars Martin Lawrence and Will Smith and several potential endings, this elephantine production suffers from serious overkill on the parts of both producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay. This pair never fails to make pots of money, to be sure, and this eight-years-later sequel will no doubt continue their winning streak. But if summer audiences aren’t already tired of films with numbers at the end of their titles, they will be after this one.
Original “Bad Boys” put Bruckheimer and late partner Don Simpson back on track in 1995 after a dry spell following their departure from Paramount. It was something of a surprise B.O. performer at the time since Lawrence and Smith were then only known as TV personalities.
All the same, its $66 million domestic gross and $76 million overseas take were hardly blockbuster figures, and the sum of those amounts wouldn’t come close to covering the budget for this follow-up, which features the two stars as Miami narcotics detectives on the case of a Cuban drug dealer who’s on the verge of becoming the top dog in town. Perhaps inspired by a desire to disguise the fact that this premise — it’s hardly a plot — has been used a thousand times, the filmmakers throw more money and camera setups at it than anyone has ever been able to afford before, and the film’s feel of excess in all departments curdles what occasional amusement the actors create by dint of their sheer enthusiasm.
Sleek opening credits sequence lays out how $150 million in ecstasy tablets are manufactured and shipped in coffins from Amsterdam to Miami. Laying in wait are the U.S. Coast Guard, a WACS plane, the high-tech-enhanced Tactical Narcotics Team and local cops Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Smith), who, in a bizarrely silly scene, pop out of Ku Klux Klan robes at a cross-burning drop point, surprising some rednecks. During the gunfire that ensues, a bullet from Mike’s pistol is shown making its way toward Marcus’ butt in extreme slow motion, and it can be imagined that someone who finds this hilarious might find great amusement in the remainder of the picture.
A leering little disco interlude designed to reveal the effects of ecstasy on club-goers could arguably stand as the quintessential Michael Bay sequence, but then it’s down to serious business, that of giving Lawrence and Smith, playing lifelong friends and partners, a long leash to indulge in their ragging-on-each-other shtick. In the script by the estimable Ron Shelton and Jerry Stahl, the main source of potential friction, aside from Mike having shot Marcus in the ass, lies in Mike’s recent dalliance with Marcus’ beauteous sister, Syd (Gabrielle Union), a New York DEA agent newly arrived for an undercover assignment involving some Russian criminals who themselves are heading for a showdown with their Cuban rival, Johnny Tapia (Jordi Molla).
For those who haven’t seen enough gargantuan chase scenes this summer, “Bad Boys II” features two of them, the first a pursuit involving Syd in an SUV, some Haitian thugs in a trailer truck they commandeered that’s loaded with cars, and Marcus and Mike in a Ferrari. The money shots here involve vehicles being pushed off the trailer that then go bouncing, rolling and spinning unpredictably over the causeway; true, this is a new trick in the chase scene lexicon, but the scene is repetitive and overdone in a way that summarizes the problems with the entire picture.
The guys get the expected dressing down from their boss (Joe Pantoliano) who, like Marcus, has taken to Eastern spiritualism, therapy and anger management in an effort to cope with the rigors of his job; he’s the first police captain to demand that his subordinates remove their shoes before entering his office.
After a very imaginatively shot gunbattle between the bad boys and the remaining Haitians in an apartment, a scene in which the opponents fire away from opposite sides of an apartment wall as the camera circles rapidly around it to cover the action in both rooms, pic settles into a comedy routine groove for a while.
In a long digression that might well have served as end-credits filler, Marcus and Mike indulge in an intimate discussion in a TV appliance store that is accidentally broadcast on all the monitors and is misconstrued by the shocked customers as a private talk between two gays. After posing as pest exterminators to plant surveillance bugs in Tapia’s mansion, they reach their comic peak here as they ferociously confront a 15-year-old who’s come to take Marcus’ teenage daughter on her first date. Lawrence also has his moments later on when Marcus ingests some ecstasy and begins acting warm and snuggly with Mike and anyone else in his vicinity.
Otherwise, the more routine the plot developments become — Tapia kills one of the Russians and takes Syd on as his money-laundering partner before kidnapping her and eventually trying to escape with his ill-gotten gains to Cuba — the more Bay gives them the hard sell, to vastly diminishing returns. The second big chase scene, involving a fight on an elevated train, feels pointless, and the cumulative effect of all the gunfire and wanton destruction and hyperventilating forward motion is numbing.
The looming question on a picture like this is why its makers felt obliged to make a 2½-hour movie when they could have saved tens of millions of dollars by not shooting perhaps 45 minutes of unnecessary footage and in the bargain delivered a tighter, tauter, more satisfying film. Such is the logic of would-be blockbusters in Hollywood today.
As it is, Bay directs like a driver who tries to move on city streets the way he does on a freeway, without recognizing the value of different speed limits and jamming pedal to the metal until he simply runs out of gas. Many of the stunts and shots are spectacular, to be sure, but the preponderance of them dilutes their impact.
It’s easy to see how the citizens of Miami were so famously inconvenienced by this production, as certain streets obviously had to be tied up for days on end by the massive chases and crashes staged on them. Technically, pic is all-stops-out and padded to the max; end credits reveal a staff of 10 for Lawrence and nine for Smith.
Auds who know what they want from the two stars and like it in extended doses will get their money’s worth, while others will be happy for another eight-year break between series installments. Union is spirited as usual, while Spanish thesp Molla rolls into one performance every cliche of a Latin drug lord seen onscreen over the past 25 years.