Action by the Book

There's no denying that Bad Boys follows Hollywood's action comedy formula by the book. But where most films only end up bombing in the process, Bad Boys takes the laughs and thrills quotient to its limits -- and then some.

Bad Boys cuts straight to the chase. Rather than worry about introducing its heroes -- detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) -- separately and then bringing them together for the standard buddy-cop relationship-building routine, the film kicks off with the partnership already forged and ready to go, in an almost sequel-like fashion. There's nothing in Bad Boys to slow down the film's pace, which gets relentlessly faster and faster from the second the Columbia Pictures logo fades out to the time the closing credits begin to rise.

Simply put -- in order not to spoil the good time to be had with the movie, it's best to keep specific plot points unrevealed -- this roller coaster is about how Miami narcotics cops Burnett and Lowrey have only four days in which to recover a large amount of heroin that was stolen from a police lock-up; their only lead is Julie Mott (Tea Leoni), a murder witness around whom Burnett and Lowrey must -- and I won't say why -- each pretend to be the other. The identity-switch not only serves as a major source of laughs, but also as a clever way to flesh out the detectives' characters.

If not for the on-screen mojo between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, Bad Boys would drop a number of notches from hilarious to ludicrous. But the pairing of Lawrence and Smith, rather than resulting in the battle of the comedic egos, is perfectly balanced throughout the film.

The actors successfully trade the roles of straight man and outrageous comic off between Lawrence's Burnett (a stressed-out family man who's trying to make a living on a cop's modest salary) and Smith's Lowrey (a thrill-seeking Casanova with a badge and a large family inheritance). Both Lawrence and Smith prove highly successful as witty supercops, turning in performances that combine the charm Eddie Murphy instilled in Beverly Hills Cop's Axel Foley with the coolness of Bruce Willis' John McClane from the Die Hard series. Lawrence and Smith's chemistry is even solid enough to pull off the requisite, and overused, good cop/bad cop scene, something that generally ends up seeming stupid. Action junkies who don't particularly care for Lawrence's and Smith's sitcoms (Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, respectively) will be pleasantly surprised.

As the sassy damsel in distress, Leoni is both sexy and funny. She holds her own in what could have served as nothing more than an ornamental role, proving to be the best third wheel in an action comedy since Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 2. Another stand-out supporting performance comes from French actor Tcheky Karyo as the bad-guy-with-an-accent Fouchet. (American audiences know Karyo best as La Femme Nikita's Bob, the government agent who trains Nikita.) With his weathered looks and stone-cold stare, Karyo is thoroughly enjoyable as the apathetic Fouchet; it would be nice to see more of France's answer to Harvey Keitel in the future.

Despite the fact that Bad Boys is director Michael Bay's feature film debut, it's not surprising that he was able to give it a look that's nothing short of engrossing. An experienced director of music videos and commercials, Bay knows how to command audience attention with stylistic visuals -- including sweeping aerial shots of Miami and John Woo-like orchestrations of gunplay -- without being overly indulgent.

Unlike many who come to features from video work, though, Bay also knows how to keep things interesting over the long haul. His knack for action really shines through in the film's chase scenes, whether they be on foot or of the high-speed sports car variety. Well matched with its hip-hop/rap/soul soundtrack -- featuring artists such as 2Pac and Da Brat -- Bad Boys is best experienced sitting close to the screen in a theater that's got a kicking sound system.

Any good action comedy must, at a minimum, accomplish at least three things: 1) it should make your cheeks hurt from laughing; 2) it should give you a healthy adrenaline rush; and 3) it should dismiss any ideas of making a quick trip to the bathroom, no matter how badly you need to go. Bad Boys accomplishes all three, and with plenty of attitude to boot.

Bad Boys.
Directed by Michael Bay.
With Martin Lawrence, Will Smith and Tea Leoni.
Rated R.
126 minutes.


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