Bad Boys II (review)

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A Cry for Help

(Worst of 2003)

Of course it’s Michael Bay–ariffic in that adorably ultraviolent, homophobic kinda way, all vehicles exploding for no apparent reason and deeply repressed male emotions, the kind of stuff that can’t help but lead one to the conclusion that Michael Bay is denying that he has some serious issues with, really, just about everything he comes into contact with: women, men, cars, swimming pools, family pets, home electronics.

He’s angry and he’s scared, this beastly filmic inner child of Bay’s, this Id with a camera and a limitless Hollywood budget, and it’s coming to a head if Bad Boys II is any indication. His palette is considerably more bloated with rage since his first feature, 1995’s Bad Boys. You’re asking yourself in stunned amazement: “So recent? Bay has walked among us, frightening children and small dogs, for a mere eight years? It feels like an eternity, what with the Armageddons and the Pearl Harbors.” But now, the slo-mo is slower, as if to indicate how truly trapped he feels; the fiery detonations are somehow fierier, as if to demonstrate how all-consuming his self-directed fury is; the backlighting and the colored filters reduce his world to terrifying shadowy figures, as if to say, “I truly fear the strange and lonely unknowableness of humanity.”

But there’s something bold here, too, as if Bay feels freer to open up in a political environment that’s moving to assuage the worries of the Bays of this world: that oddly accented foreigners are trouble, that gays are a threat to masculinity. Miami cops Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith: Men in Black II, The Legend of Bagger Vance) hunt down a Cuban drug smuggler (Jordi Mollà: Blow) using John Ashcroft–approved methods that make Die Hard‘s cowboy cop John McClane look like Andy Griffith: disdain for cooperation with other policing agencies like the DEA, dismissal of the necessity of formalities like search warrants. Of course, a certain degree of rogue lawlessness has always been inherent in overblown flicks about superhero cops, but here, now, Bay takes it to a new level: Burnett and Lowrey aren’t bucking the system, they are the system, and It Is Good. The downright pornographic glee with which Bay shoots slo-mo bullets into the crania of bad guys… the ecstatic glory he imbues into a devastating multiple-vehicle (car, truck, boat) highway chase… the utter scorn for civilians who get in the way… All are celebrations of an ascendant attitude in law enforcement: Anything goes, and the more defiant to the ideals of true justice the better. Shockingly, and probably accidentally — Bay is not a filmmaker who understands irony — the climax barrels right up to the front door of that most audacious symbol of the current disregard for the rule of law: the U.S. military base of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The flip side of that bravado, though, is the sheer terror of the possibility of emasculation, from Burnett’s inability to get an erection, discussed loudly and frequently, to the would-be comical anger-management techniques practiced by the bad boys’ captain (Joe Pantoliano: Daredevil, Memento). Rage, Bay would have us believe, is fine and manly, and subduing it is cause for ridicule; better for a man to deal with his anger as playa Lowrey tellingly does, subduing his female police therapist with a charm so supposedly irresistible that she cannot restrain from giving him a blow job. Much is made, too, of a very public mistaking of Burnett and Lowrey for a gay couple, so much so that later, when there comes the inevitable and inebriated “I love ya, man” scene, this simple affection must be qualified as “not a gay thing — it’s a man thing.” An overinsistence on just how unbothered Bay is by girlish things like feeling and compassion is the only possible explanation for his disgusting use of extremely realistic human corpses as action-movie playthings.

Hide the children, yes, but spare a kind thought for Michael Bay. Bad Boys II is a sad cry for help, for a hug, for a compassionate ear. Won’t anyone think of the director?

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