The Alternate Universe 'Bad Boys'

Before Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, there was Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. Michael Bay would have made it work.

Bad Boys
Columbia Pictures

Spend $19 million, get $141 million. That’s not just the goal, that’s the dream. Everyone wanted to make money on Bad Boys in 1995, but even mega-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer had no idea they were going to rake in as much cash as they did. They were too caught up in their Disney production of Crimson Tide, leaving their upstart director and his TV cast pretty much to their own devices as long as they kept the budget tight.

Bad Boys is a simple flick that thrives on base thrills elevated by flash, sex, and charm. The film propelled one lead into the stratosphere of stardom and nearly did the same for the other (Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son is just one Big Momma too many). Michael Bay unfurled himself upon Hollywood, and it has never been the same since. For better and a whole helluva lot worse. Thank god he seems done with those trash fire Transformers sequels, and he’s contained within Netflix where his most wretched instincts are free to roam wild, and we can enjoy them safely and solitarily behind closed doors.

AND YET! There is a universe in which Bad Boys never was. In this bizarro realm, Simpson and Bruckheimer solidified their Micky Mouse deal with a one-two punch of Days of Thunder and another buddy cop flick called Bulletproof Hearts, minus a Bueva Vista Pictures detour with indie darling The Ref in the middle.

In the early ’90s, Simpson and Bruckheimer were feeling fairly low. Their Paramount Pictures deal that had produced action epics like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop had fallen apart and forced them to take a two-year break before they put another film before cameras. Days of Thunder made them a good deal of bank at the box office, but the Tony Scott film was shredded by critics.

They needed a hit, and thankfully, they had the guys to do it: Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. The Saturday Night Live stars were riding high and were happy to work with the producers who had made a legend out of Eddie Murphy. Carvey recently wrapped Wayne’s World 2 and was looking to take the lead and let someone else play sidekick. Lovitz had no such aspirations; he was happy where he was.

Simpson and Bruckheimer purchased the original George Gallo (Midnight Run) script for Bulletproof Hearts in 1986 for $55,000. Carvey called for re-writes, and a bevy of talent answered. James Toback (Bugsy), Larry Ferguson (Beverly Hills Cop II), and David Milch (Deadwood) all took a crack at it. The title evolved into Bad Boys, but the meat of the tale still tasted off for the man of the house. Carvey balked.

The actor was not comfortable with the ladies’ man persona of Detective Mike Lowery. He didn’t mind playing a scamp, but he didn’t want to play a letch. Time passed, and more writers fiddled to make it work for the talent. Michael Bay came on, and according to the Bad Boys commentary track, Carvey jettisoned after an initial round of test shooting.

With no Carvey, so went Lovitz. Simpson and Bruckheimer took inspiration from a similar situation they experienced when Sylvester Stallone jumped from Beverly Hills Cop, and Eddie Murphy hopped aboard and revolutionized the concept. On television, Martin Lawerence was dominating and offered a similar vibe as a young Murphy once did. They nabbed him for the Lovitz family man police officer, and they went after Arsenio Hall for Detective Mike Lowery. Hall said, “No.”

What now? It didn’t matter. Disney wanted to ditch the project, and they were quick to hand over the script to Sony Pictures when they came calling with $3 million. Bay takes credit for putting Will Smith in the role and knew a foot chase featuring the shirtless star was all that was needed to catapult him into legend. Smith fought him briefly, but as most tend to do, he conceded to the director’s intense, unbreakable vision. Go Bay or go home.

Happy to see the film finally in production, Simpson and Bruckheimer concerned themselves exclusively with making the film as cheaply as they could. Too much damn money was spent getting to this point, and they were as exhausted with the project as they were frustrated. The film would be on Bay to make.

Three more screenwriters chopped up the script and eventually landed the actual credit of creation: Amazon Women on the Moon writing partners Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, and Doug Richardson (Die Hard 2: Die Harder). No one on the team was impressed (“You could drive trucks through the logic of some of this script“), but they no longer had the time or the energy to care. The buddy cops were in place. ‘Nuff said.

Narrative matters not. Don’t fool yourself into thinking anything else. This is cinema. All aspects of the form must be embraced and celebrated. Success extends beyond the words scribbled on a page. If scripts were the most crucial elements to the medium, then how do you explain the last 40 years of popular entertainment? Personality, style, character, charisma, and flash will trump a shitty screenplay any day of the week. There is no other way to explain the success of Bad Boys or the countless other buddy cop comedies that came before and after.

Michael Bay knows what’s up. From his early days interning at Lucasfilm, he witnessed the power of casting and shot selection. A thin plot is only necessary to hang a character or an actor. As long as the audience adores the protagonist, they will accept whatever absurdity or drudgery the writer flings their way.

To show what he could do, he needed Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The end. They were cheap because they were hungry. They built a strong fanbase on the small screen, and Bay saw the potency of their charisma as well as its infectious nature. Get these guys in front of more faces, expose a bare chest sprinting, and Bay knew he could make them international stars despite the stale-ass draft cuffed to their persons.

In 1994, while Michael Bay was bringing Bad Boys home, Dana Carvey accomplished Clean Slate, The Road to Wellville, and Trapped in Paradise. Whatever energy he had coming out of SNL and Wayne’s World 2 was completely shot by the time he reached The Master of Disguise in 2002. Could Bulletproof Hearts have changed all that? Bay would have made Carvey work for what he needed: a badass movie to prove his dominance over narrative.

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.