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Bad Company (Joel Schumacher) 2002


    Sometimes a massive failure can do good things to a film director. Case in point: Joel Schumacher, whose Batman and Robin, a massive folly that effectively killed one of film’s biggest franchises, prompted a career reappraisal that has resulted in a series of grittier, more personal, and generally better films. It’s with trepidation, then, that one approaches Bad Company, since the film’s high concept premise (the twin of a secret agent is recruited to combat Russian nuclear arms dealers) and high concept producer (none other than Jerry Bruckheimer) seem to promise the opposite of subtlety. Even if Schumacher doesn’t return to the pseudo-Dogma minimalism of his last film Tigerland, in Bad Company, he avoids the typical Bruckheimer-style glossiness, instead opting for a shadowy, gritty world that’s a less of a cartoon than an approximation of reality, even when it’s at its most funny. As the film flip-flops from New York, to Washington, to Prague, and back it generally remains unexpectedly muted, but attractive, visually. None of the overly kinetic garishness of Pearl Harbor or Armageddon is to be found here.


    Chris Rock, cast here as Jake, a chess hustler and ticket scalper from Jersey, is no great actor; he consistently stumbles over his dramatic scenes, but the man is damn funny. He can make even the lamest lines (“We were so poor we used to lick stamps for dinner.”) coax a laugh out of you. Cast here as a one-man Greek chorus, his snide comments deflate the self-importance of the stoic military operation that surrounds him with hilarious results. Even more, he makes this cliché-laden exercise feel like it has a pulse, and even a bit of intelligence, and that’s no small feat. Anthony Hopkins, who’s cast as Jake’s mentor, isn’t the funniest of actors to begin with, and he generally stays on the sidelines as he scowls at Jake’s hip-hop music, calls him a “bitch” and a “punk” a few times, and ultimately saves himself from embarrassment by not getting too comfortable with Jake’s presence. There’s surprisingly little awkward comic interplay between the two, and as a result Bad Company beats Rush Hour at its own game. As the film proceeds into its second, more action-oriented hour, it noticeably dulls, though it never exactly becomes a bust. The gunfights grow more frequent, but they’re rarely exciting, since Jake usually runs away from conflict with his tail between his legs. Still, the pyrotechnics seem to have been to a reasonable (i.e. non-deafening) level, and the thrill of seeing Series 7’s Brooke Smith with a gun again, combined with Rock’s tremendously enjoyable performance, make it all worthwhile.


* * * 


Jeremy Heilman