Bad Boys (1995)
My wife knows I ain’t no bitch. I’m a bad boy.
Meet detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowery (Will Smith) of the Miami Police Department’s narcotics division. Yesterday, they were two partners at the top of their game. Today, they are faced with $100 million dollars in heroin stolen from inside their own police station. And to make matters worse, in order to gain the cooperation of their one lone witness (Tea Leoni) to a related murder, they have to pretend to be each other. Now the wife-controlled family man Marcus must take the role of flashy ladies man Mike as they track down a ruthless and mysterious villain who goes by the name of Fouchet (Tcheky Karyo).
Why We Love It
This week’s Movies We Love entry comes with a sigh of relief from yours truly. Finally, I’m taking the time to sit down and write about one of my favorite films of all-time. As you know if you read this site, my love for the work of Michael Bay and my will to apologize for even his most mediocre films is beyond anything you’ll see elsewhere. But in the case of Bad Boys — the film where it all began for the now infamous Bay — there is no reason to apologize. Sure, it’s about as formulaic as any buddy cop movie might be, never surpassing the ingenuity achieved by the Lethal Weapon movies that came before it, but there’s something special here. Something about chemistry and restraint and technically sound filmmaking. Something about energy and intensity and blowing stuff up real good. The stuff that makes a great action movie, if you ask me.
It begins with chemistry, much of which is housed in the on-screen relationship between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. At the time, these two men were not action stars. They really weren’t stars at all. Smith had made a few movies, but was known mostly for his music and television personality The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Lawrence was a similar story. He’d shown up in a few films, including Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, but his claim to familiarity rested solely on his stand-up comedy, which broke out with his 1994 film You So Crazy. These weren’t action stars.
In fact, they were the second choice of producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. The two producers, fresh off the success of Top Gun and Days of Thunder, were looking at the project for prominent comedians Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. But once then commercial director Michael Bay came on to the project, everything change. He brought in Smith, Lawrence and his cavalier attitude, especially where the script was concerned. As Bay has said many times over the years, he wasn’t a fan of the original script. So he encouraged Smith and Lawrence to play around with the dialogue as much as possible. The result is some of the film’s best moments, including the “two bitches in the sea” argument and the gunpoint argument with the store clerk (played by Shaun Toub). It’s the playful dialogue that makes Bad Boys an interesting film when there isn’t a big gun fight or explosion on-screen. It’s the playful dialogue combined with a solid score from Mark Mancina that keep the film’s energy up as we await the next artfully shot action sequence.
And when the action sequences come, Michael Bay delivers. The combination of a tight production schedule, tight budget and the fact that it was his first time directing a feature film created a perfect storm for Bay, who has gone on to make some visually shiny, but messy films since. If there’s one word that describes his style at the time, it would be restrained. His camera moves around a lot, but the movement is smooth and graceful as it captures its hero shots. The most notable of which is the rotating camera around Smith and Lawrence just after they’ve lost their witness. They are standing there in the middle of the street realizing that Fouchet and his goons have escaped with the one person who could help them solve the case. As the camera pans around, there’s a sense of despair that unites the audience with the film’s heroes. As Martin Lawrence’s character would say in the sequel, that’s the moment when shit got real. For Bay, it was his first of many money shots that involved a swooping camera. No matter how hard he tries, it may never be that good again.
Another reason why Bad Boys works so well is that it has a formidable villain. Tcheky Karyo, as Fouchet, is exactly the kind of ruthless sonofabitch who would have the cajones to break into a police station and steal drugs from the evidence room. He’s also a very calculated, smart villain who calls back to some of the best villains of the 80s. He’s Hans Gruber with a better tailor. And his bad guy introduction is perfect — we watch him kill one of his own men as a decoy, one of the many men under his employ that he will waste by the end of the flick. He’s a dangerous character who puts our heroes in a situation of real peril, where just about anything can happen. He creates the stakes for the film, making his demise all the more meaningful.
And of course, there is the issue of blowing stuff up real good…
Moment We Fell in Love
As I mentioned, Bad Boys was not the expensive actioner that it looks to be. Made for a meager $10 million dollars, it was shot quickly and it didn’t involve any flashy effects beyond Michael Bay and cinematographer Howard Atherton swinging the camera all over the place. Heck, Michael Bay even had to use his own Porsche 911 as the hero car in the final scene because they couldn’t afford to go out and buy one. Which brings me to the moment when I fell in love. The year was 1995, Bad Boys was my first R-rated movie experience as an spry 12-year old living in the dreary midwest. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen at the time. Hip, full of witty banter and bullets flying everywhere. But it wasn’t until the final action sequence that I was really hooked. When the infiltration of the airport hangar was complete and the building went up with the most impressive explosion my 12-year old eyes had ever seen, I was in love. At that moment, my perception of how action movies should be was altered forever. It was really fucking cool.
Love it or hate it, Bad Boys is a fun ride. Though if you love it, I guess we can be friends. For me, this film holds a special place in my heart. It was seen at the right time in my life, under the right conditions, and it all made sense to me at the time. Since then, I’ve come to form a nostalgic bond with it, despite learning of some of its faults. Some of the dialogue isn’t so good, the pacing isn’t as rip-roaring as 12-year old me thought it was, and the story really is the height of formulaic. It matters not, at least not to me. I will always look lovingly upon the rise of Michael Bay and the movie in which he made both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence real movie stars. I will always reserve a place in my heart for this stylish work, even when I’ve moved on to see films with more substance. Because in the end, that final action sequence is still one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on-screen. That Michael Bay sure does know how to blow stuff up real good.