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Bad Boys II (Michael Bay, 2003)
The arrival of a new Michael Bay film, perhaps appropriately, sets forth much gnashing of teeth in the critical community, and it doesn’t seem that the coming of Bad Boys II is any different. Everything that one needs to know about Bay’s particular brand of cinematic overkill can be seen in the opening sequence of the movie. Before the titular bad boys storm onto the scene, the film spends about five minutes detailing the operations of an ecstasy-smuggling operation. In these scenes, Bay has no idea how to use his style to condemn the drug dealers. He films everything that they do in the same glossy, rapid, mood flattening style that he uses to celebrate his heroes, and as a result he ends up making the drug dealers look “cool”. Even after he establishes his heroes (who form a generic buddy cop match-up), he still keeps ladling the same incomprehensible, conflicted style over his cardboard villain (Jordi Molla). Shot after shot compares him to Jesus, presumably in the pursuit of humor, but during those scenes, the only thing being satirized is his religious devotion. In other scenes, he features rats running around the dealer’s mansion, and the camera seems to be suggesting that Bay thinks the dealer is a rat, but considering the general lack of control exhibited over such things in Bad Boys II, I can’t be too certain of his intent. In any case, I’m completely at a loss of what to make of the final cruelty inflicted on his villain, in which he depicts him falling onto a land mine and exploding after he’s been shot between the eyes. The righteous eye of Bay sees potential for suffering everywhere, so it’s difficult to read moral judgments into his decision to punish his villain, especially since he seems as interested in making him seem flashy.
Because he’s so eager to get the audience involved, Bay exaggerates everything in sight, hoping to make it interesting. It’s not enough to show drugs being smuggled. Here the drugs being smuggled are transported in coffins. It’s not enough that the dope smugglers are evil. Here they are also members of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s not enough to have a gruff police squad leader barking orders. Here he’s played by Henry Rollins. Because Bay is completely incapable of turning off this “gift”, though, nothing really registers as cool. Worse still, since everything is being given the same treatment by the style, nothing ever really registers as exciting. Not for a single moment is the film suspenseful, but it still maintains a stoicism in its action scenes that keeps it from feeling fun. A multitude of lame comedy skits exist to break up the set pieces, but they are infused with the same sort of mean-spiritedness that defines the rest of the picture. To find them funny is to buy into Bay’s homophobic, masochistic, and generally rotten view of the world.
Everything, most of all human life, is cheap in Bad Boys II. After blowing his wad early on with a freeway car chase (that we’re inexplicably told cost the lives of no police officers), Bay attempts to up the ante in a subsequent chase with one of the most revolting set pieces ever designed. As his stars chase after some smugglers who are driving a morgue transport vehicle, they begin to toss corpses out at the policemen. With no time to get out of the way, the heroes begin driving over the corpses, spraying the road with body parts, and making “funny” quips about the situation. Generally, there’s nothing remarkable about Bad Boys II, but in scenes like this, its ability to disgust suggests the presence of a genuinely disturbed mind behind the camera. Bay’s most vehement energy seems directed at foreigners. He paints his drug smugglers as a threat to American quality of life (a threat that oddly evaporates during the supposedly comic scene in which Martin Lawrence’s character accidentally ingests some ecstasy.). To confront this outside menace, in the film’s finale, he involves his police officers in a vigilante invasion of Cuba. In these scenes, which probably should be deemed the Michael Bay of Pigs Invasion, we see American culture quite literally and forcibly imposing itself upon others as a car chase demolishes a poor Cuban shack town. That Bay so effortlessly finds a visual metaphor for American cultural imperialism and expects to entertain the film’s worldwide audience is deeply disturbing. His grossly miscalculated attempts to please crowds here result in callousness, and as the movie oscillates between disposable and deplorable it flirts with some kind of dubious distinction (most repugnant mainstream movie ever?) that it thankfully cannot achieve because of its internal inconsistency. I shudder to think about the repercussions if cinema continues to move in this direction.
Despite anything that I say, Bad Boys II, like Bay’s last several films, will be a hit. It’s scary to think that in choosing ecstasy as his MacGuffin, Bay might think he’s making a statement about his desire to give his audience an unending supply of intensified pleasure. If the wanton cruelty and nonstop excesses of Bad Boys II represents the ideal to the bulk of moviegoers, I’m more out of touch with the masses than I suspected. Even though I occasionally admired the film’s hallucinogenic grandeur and bold scope, the majority of Bad Boys II feels like a bad trip.