Bad Boys II features what is without doubt the single most spectacular car chase of the week. In this instance the ringleader of vehicular mayhem is Miami narcotics detective Mike Lowrey (Will Smith), who is careering along the freeway in one of those silvery aerodynamic sports jobs, with his partner, the congenitally nervous Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), cowering in the passenger seat. The two are in pursuit of a dreadlocked drug runner who’s at the wheel of a shiny red automobile carrier. As they arc over the road, the carrier dislodges its contents, car by car, with each auto tumbling and crashing backward in close-up, right into the camera. Marcus: ”This is some sick s—!” Mike: ”It’s about to get sicker!”
Apart from its kinetic zest, the sequence works for an interesting reason. Normally, you’re well aware that the movie star you’re watching isn’t actually doing much of the driving, but this logistical reality is never too pesky a distraction in ”Bad Boys II.” Mike, as Will Smith plays him, is an aggressively righteous badass oozing with furious, rule-smashing pride – a fusion of Dirty Harry and Malcolm X, with a touch of Mad Max thrown in. You believe that he’s driving, all right; it’s part of the feral magnetism of Smith’s performance that he refuses to be anyone’s action puppet. When we first see him, he’s disrupting a KKK rally, swinging a pair of guns around, and Smith, high on superstar swagger, pushes his natural confidence to starkly funny levels of bravura recklessness.
Sleek and centered, Mike is terrified of nothing, whereas Lawrence’s Marcus, with his Pryor-esque facial contortions, sees the danger in everything. Their bond is rooted, implicitly, in their mutual suspicion of the white power structure, but when Mike accidentally fires a bullet into Marcus’ butt, it sets off what looks like a terminal personality clash. The smartest thing about the movie is that it allows the two to act as if they’ve truly had it with each other’s foibles.
The dumbest thing is the generically convoluted drug plot, which features a power war between a couple of clichéd foreign Ecstasy kingpins. At 2 hours and 24 minutes, ”Bad Boys II,” produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Michael Bay, from a script by Ron Shelton and Jerry Stahl, might have been subtitled ”Bigger, Longer & Uncut.” Inflating the concept of the original ”Bad Boys” until that movie now looks like a backyard tea party, it’s a corporate action comedy that pushes everything, including its central relationship, to rudely unstable extremes. There are machine-gun shoot-outs jammed next to nudge-nudge parodies of anger management. There are rats, buckets of bloody limbs, and drugs stowed in icky, sucked-out corpses. There’s an excruciating sequence in which our heroes discuss Marcus’ butt wound on an electronics store’s display TVs (Get it? They sound gay in front of the whole store!) and a very funny one in which they act like ghetto ruffians to terrorize Marcus’ daughter’s teenage date. Long after any self-respecting movie would have ended, there’s a finale in Cuba that exists for no purpose except to detonate a mansion in high tinderbox style. Did I mention that Marcus drops Ecstasy, which prompts him to make love to his own nipples?
In the 1980s, Bruckheimer and his partner, Don Simpson, wanted to win, and so they made movies about winning (”Flashdance,” ”Top Gun”). As the era they’d helped set in motion progressed, winning became defined, more and more, as the blowing up of box office records by blowing up more things on screen (”Bad Boys,” ”The Rock”). They turned adrenalized aggression into a cinematic narcotic, and though Simpson died in 1996, Bad ”Boys II” follows the pair’s flash-boom aesthetic with its nasty, slovenly, fitfully entertaining amalgam of thrills and petty blasphemies, its buddy repartee served up as a verbal form of contact explosive. Mike and Marcus razz a pair of Latino cops, they razz the whiny Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), they razz each other over Mike’s affection for Marcus’ sister (Gabrielle Union), who, in the movie’s most awkward contrivance, just happens to be an undercover DEA agent. Smith and Lawrence give good razz, but ”Bad Boys II” proves that it’s possible to pack a movie with so much popcorn that it leaves the audience overdosed.