In case you haven’t heard, Bad Boys III is happening.. This is the second time Michael Bay has gone back to the exciting antics of Miami cops, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence chasing evil drug barons. I was a fan of Bad Boys and The Rock, his first two movies but Armageddon and Pearl Harbor shattered any respect I had for Michael Bay. Despite this, I secretly hoped he would forget the Americana epics and go back to making action movies. Unfortunately, he did. When he made Bad Boys II he not only confirmed his status as a dreadful director but also exposed himself as a crude filmmaker with a vulgar sensibility.
Right from the start this film is hard to watch. I mean the actual physical act of looking at it is difficult. The aesthetic itself is that of an over budget car commercial. The lights are far too bright and the over saturated colours make your eyes water. The cinematography is also harsh and extremely vulgar. These two unpleasant features are tied together with constant movement, creating a stomach churning experience. Watch this scene featuring a showdown in a house. There is absolutely no tension or atmosphere. It’s repulsive to look at.
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are the most unlikable action heroes I have ever seen. Their obnoxious and arrogant attitude delivered by yelling every line was only drowned out by the grinding of my own teeth. The humour, or what passes for it, has none of the wit or timing required for dark comedy. In fact, this film has nothing required for any kind of comedy yet it keeps trying to be funny. Michael Bay seems to think that constant homophobia, racist stereotypes, misogyny and dick jokes are not only necessary but essential. We’re supposed to laugh as our heroes in one nasty encounter insult, degrade and threaten to shoot a kid who only wants to take Martin Lawrence’s daughter out on a date. A car chase involving freshly embalmed corpses falling out of a truck and being run over is actually meant to be funny. Moments like these (and the countless others) could only have been dreamt up by a callous and hateful mind. As I mentioned earlier, Bad Boys II gave us the first real glimpse of Bay’s soul and it isn’t pretty.
Even if the action sequences themselves were any good, Bad Boys II crassness could still not be forgiven. Luckily, Michael Bay eliminates any possible opportunity for debate by crafting endless car chases and shootouts in the worst way possible. Utilizing a technique Bay genuinely calls “fucking the frame”, the camera stays as close to the cars and carnage as possible giving the viewer no chance to take in what’s going on. Not that you could as each shot lasts only a fraction of a second before cutting to another close up of a car crash. Even the static shots have a vibrating effect meant to simulate speed and movement when all it does it assault the eyes as one muscle car after another is destroyed. There’s a reason why 1968’s Bullitt is still heralded as the greatest car chase ever filmed. Not just because of the pace and tension but the focus and editing are exquisite. You know exactly what’s going on and you are given a great action sequence, not just the impression of one. This scene alone is enough to make anyone hate car chases forever.
The final chase sequence is insulting on every conceivable level. The Bad Boys follow the villain to Cuba. After a throwaway slice of jingoism referring Cuba relying on drug money (pot calling the kettle black but that’s another discussion) they pursue him in a Humvee. As before, it is painful to look at and listen to but this time, they are crashing through a shanty town and destroying every poor person’s house they see without any regard for the civilians casualties. Not to mention that it’s robbed shot for shot from the Jackie Chan classic Police Story, a real action movie by genius who knows a thing or two about precision and care. Ironically, the only thing Bad Boys II doesn’t rob from Police Story are the moments where the civilians are put to safety and the cops are chastised for not caring enough about them. Would it be too much effort to have a moment like this in Bad Boys II? Of course. It might encourage its viewers to think.
A lot has been said about Michael Bay and we’ve all heard it so there’s no real need to quote the endless list negative reviews he has gotten over the course of his career. Suffice to say, every bad thing said about him can be justified by this movie alone. I like car chases, shootouts and destruction as much as anyone but that’s not the point. Would the car chases in Ronin been improved by having Robert DeNero screaming at Jean Reno as cadavers are thrown at them? There’s a reason John Woo used long takes and a steady cam in Hard Boiled. Good action films have perfectly framed and edited with interesting characters and at least give the audience a chance enjoy what they see. After watching Bad Boys II I remembered nothing of the shots, the action or the plot and all that resonates in my mind now is just noise. Painful, painful noise.