Steve Daly
November 03, 1995 AT 05:00 AM EST

Two Simpson-Bruckheimer action flicks on home video

In the logo that these days announces each new ”film” from producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer (they’d never present mere ”movies”), clouds part as two bolts of electricity blaze diagonally downward, intertwining to a single spot. You’d do well to recognize both the majesty and vapidity of such a bombastic cliche — lightning literally striking twice — as you brace for the arrival on cassette of two high-grossing, hopped-up Simpson/Bruckheimer vehicles. They both rev engines full of sound and fury, but the nuclear-sub nail-biter Crimson Tide, a slick remix of Cold War battleship riffs, signifies way more than Bad Boys, an odd-couple cop romp that wheezily retreads tired stylistic tics from such mid-’80s Simpson/Bruckheimer career makers as Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun.

These impresarios make a point of joining their names in the logo with a slash rather than a dash, an ampersand, or an and. But as viewers press play buttons, is there still in fact a Simpson/Bruckheimer partnership to ponder? Gossip columns suggested otherwise last month, when Simpson went reclusive in the wake of a houseguest’s accidental OD.

The pair currently insist that all is well for future S/B productions. Based on the videotape evidence at hand, that could be either an okay thing or a bad thing for the future of the movies. Because when you stand the firearm-fueled goings-on of Tide and Boys back-to-back on tape, instead of browsing them months apart in theaters, it’s amazing to see how little variation there is in the S/B eye-candy formula.

You like photogenic fish tanks? You got ’em: A Tide sailor pines over his finned beauties (as if a Navy ship would really let such a big, plate-glass hazard-in-waiting on board), and Bad Boys loudmouth Martin Lawrence gets thrown right through a tank in, of all places, a nightclub bathroom. Do you groove on pointless, mood-enhancing ambiance that smacks of TV ads (from whence Bruckheimer sprang)? Just watch how Tide director Tony Scott (Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II) drenches crew members in sheets of rain as they board ship. Or look at the way first-time feature director Michael Bay (another TV-ad and music-video wunderkind) bathes Boys‘ station house in venetian-blinded sunlight. Or gawk at the artificially burnished gold skies that blanket both movies.

So much for visuals; what about story elements? There’s typically a first-act face-off between two macho guys, then a contest to see who’s better. Is cold-warrior sub captain Gene Hackman a relic now that Harvard-educated Denzel Washington is his executive officer? Is ladies’ man police officer Will Smith more manly or just smoother than his harried married partner Lawrence?

As in that most hackneyed of S/B movies, the 1990 Tom Cruiser Days of Thunder, issues aren’t resolved; they end in mutual backslapping. And as usual, women aren’t much more than decorations. Let’s not forget the new S/B fetish either: cute, sloppy pets. Tide‘s Hackman, en route to a confrontation with Washington, lets his terrier pee in the sub’s corridor; Tea Leoni, as the sharp-spoken white witness who locks horns with Boys‘ lingo-spewing cops, lets her little pooches poop all over Smith’s expensive furnishings.

That such a ploy seems funny in a submarine flick but labored in a cop movie has less to do with context than with the talents involved. Tony Scott may be heavy-handed (check out those radar displays shining absurdly strong green, red, and blue light beams over the cast), but he knows what a movie is — and Tide has a visual sweep that’s sadly compromised by the cropped tape. Scott is also working with two big-screen actors who shrewdly turn tintypes into thrilling personalities. But in trying to showcase home-screen homeys Smith and Lawrence, Boys‘ Bay jumps unsteadily from one incoherent music-video setup to the next, propelled by an obvious pop soundtrack. He simply isn’t ready to make a film that feels like a film. Which proves that even when you’re a brand-name production team obsessed with firepower, your destiny still rises and falls with the people who actually look through the most important trigger sights of all: the camera viewfinder and the editing-room monitor. Crimson Tide: B+; Bad Boys: C-

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