Michael Bay hasn't always been the most ridiculed director in Hollywood. The former music-video director's first two films, "Bad Boys" (1995) and "The Rock" (1996), were considered enjoyable if somewhat dumb action movies. The tide started to turn with "Armageddon" (1998), which was more overtly ludicrous, then got uglier with "Pearl Harbor" (2001), which a lot of people felt was downright laughable.
I should point out, however, that I didn't go into "Bad Boys II" with an anti-Bay attitude. I had been one of the few critics to write a positive review of "Pearl Harbor" (yeah, yeah, I know). If I had any biases, they were against Martin Lawrence, who had just starred in a string of miserable disasters that included -- just between 1999 and 2003 -- "Blue Streak," "Big Momma's House," "What's the Worst That Could Happen?," "Black Knight," and "National Security." The man was a menace.
Anyway, I hated "Bad Boys II." When it came time to compile my Worst of 2003 list, "Bad Boys II" scored first place. It has remained my go-to example for the epitome of loud, bloated, dim-witted summer blockbusters. I hear people defend it now and then -- and 23% of critics liked it at the time -- but you know what? I hear people defend Bay's "Transformers" movies too, and that's obviously nonsense.
Still, "Bad Boys II" is the most negative Michael Bay review I've written. (And I liked "The Island"!) Maybe a second viewing would move me from blinding hatred to a less fiery opinion.
What I said then: "In this summer of sequels, I suspect none will be as distasteful and off-putting as 'Bad Boys II,' an utterly crass, clueless exercise in noise just for noise’s sake.... Ah, comedy. Remember comedy? I love comedy. Nothing better than some good ol' comedy. This movie has almost no comedy. Oh, it has broad, 'Three's Company'-style misunderstandings.... But mostly, there is just shooting and yelling and cursing. Perhaps most appalling about this dim-witted, low-brow mess is its length: 2 1/2 hours.... The longer the film wears on, the more irritating it is, because we see how little regard it has for its audience.... The director is Michael Bay, who films people getting killed as if he loves watching them die.... This is an excessively violent, infuriatingly stupid film with no shame, and with no purpose." Grade: D- [Here's the whole angry review.]
"The director is Michael Bay, who films people getting killed as if he loves watching them die": That thought occurred to me while I was watching the movie, and I jotted it in my notes. I like it when observations such as that -- discovered spontaneously during the film, not during later contemplation -- make it into the final assessment. There's something to be said for immediate, gut-level reactions.
The re-viewing: Something that jumped out this time that didn't register as much in 2003 is how hyper-hetero the movie is, in that giggly, dude-you're-so-gay, junior-high-school kind of way. Marcus (Martin Lawrence) accidentally gets shot in the butt (tee hee!), and another cop teasingly tells Mike (Will Smith), "Why don't you kiss it?" Mike dismisses Marcus' group therapy as "a bunch of men hugging and kissing." The butt bullet keeps getting brought up, culminating in an excruciating bit of comedy where Marcus and Mike talk about it and bystanders think they're gay lovers. "My a** still hurts from what you did to me the other night!" Marcus says, using vague language so that those overhearing him can misunderstand. (A real person, of course, would say, "My a** still hurts from when you shot me!") The banter goes on like that for what feels like hours, never funny, never plausible, never producing even a snicker (I assume) from any viewer over the age of 17.
Therein lies the problem with "Bad Boys II": It seems to have been made with adolescent boys as the target audience, and I am a grown man. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with sophomoric humor and a teenager's mindset. That niche needs to be filled, too. But there's a clever way of doing it, and there's a dumb, pandering way. "Bad Boys II" is the latter. It's tempting to say (as my colleague Michael Dequina did) that Bay was self-aware, and that he intentionally made "Bad Boys II" as over-the-top as he could. But I don't think that holds water. This has the stink of a movie that was made this way not by design but because it's just how Bay thinks.
As I endured this bombastic fart of a movie a second time, it occurred to me that if it weren't for the aggressively stupid details, it would be a run-of-the-mill buddy-cop action comedy. It would be a forgettable but harmless "Lethal Weapon"-inspired flick that would inspire no strong opinions one way or the other. To avoid this fate, Bay made sure to pack it with exasperating idiocy: the aforementioned "Three's Company" misunderstanding; a glimpse of rats having sex; the part in the sexy dance club where the camera passes between several women's legs; Mike having sex with his hot lady therapist; the cops taking a surveillance tape to an electronics store instead of the police station (why?), so that the dirty parts can accidentally appear on every display TV in the place (ah, that's why), accompanied by the suddenly butterfingered employee's inability to turn it off; the scene where corpses are flung off the back of a truck as a diversionary tactic; Marcus' backyard pool collapsing; the endless destructive car chases; I could go on and on.
I did note in 2003 -- and this might be what saved it from an F grade -- that Bay "uses several nifty camera tricks throughout the film, though to what end I can’t imagine. People who are entertained by such vapid, sophomoric bombast aren’t liable to be impressed by technical proficiency." The most noticeable example is a standoff scene where the camera swirls in a circle around Marcus and Mike on one side of a wall, the bad guys on the other. Bay does a cool job with it ... but then he keeps doing it. The camera loops around again, and again, and again. It's like he saying, "Hey, everybody! Did you see what I did?? Mom! Look! Look! You're not looking! Look what I did! Look what I'm doing with the camera!! Did you see??"
Do I still hate this movie? Yeah, pretty much, though I think I pity it more than I hate it. It's a thick, meaty pile of juvenile nonsense, and it's shockingly overlong. How much in-your-face shooting and yelling can a person take? Not two and a half hours of it, that's for sure. Were it not for Bay's distinctively rancid style, it would be a disposable, C-grade lump. But the director isn't content to be mediocre. He wants to climb up on your shoulders and slap you in the head for 150 minutes. Good job, Michael!