Bad Boys (1995) – Iconic or Nostalgic?

Bad boys, bad boys. Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

Bad Boys 1995

With Bad Boys: Ride or Die coming out this first week in June, we’re going back to where it all started, with Michael Bay’s Bad Boys in 1995. Bad Boys was Bay’s directorial debut, which is kind of impressive. It’s the movie that put him on the map, and made him the household name he is today. The story is simple: Miami PD has lost the 100 million dollars worth of heroin they have in lock-up. How did it happen? Well, they’re less concerned about that than getting the dope back. They can’t afford to let the news get out the media without some sort of resolution.

Their Captain Howard (played with shouty excellence by Joe Pantollano) tasks Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) to track down the drugs. Mike meets up with working woman Max (Karen Alexander) and asks her to keep track of any high rollers coming in, so when her Madam tells her about a potential job that fits the bill, she goes to check it out with her roommate Julie (Téa Leoni). Julie isn’t in the same professional field as Max, but for some reason agrees to tag along. Things go south immediately: Max ends up dead and Julie is a witness to her murder. Finding Max’s killer becomes Julie’s motivation and character arc for the entire film, which involves her sometimes putting herself in dangerous situations just so she can avenge her friend.

Surprisingly, Bad Boys doesn’t have as many action set pieces as I remember. There’s the big shoot-out at the club that becomes a big shoot-out on the highway with barrels of ether, there’s the shoot-out at Mike’s house when the bad guys get the drop on them, and of course the big action set piece towards the end of the movie. Bay’s style will always be divisive, with some feeling that the action scenes are more exhausting than exhilarating. It’s very 90s for sure, with random birds taking flight during slow-mo shots, or guys flipping into the air for no apparent reason. I do appreciate some of the hyperbole, like Smith and Lawrence’s dramatic running through the streets of Miami, with their shirts flapping open, somehow able to keep up with moving vehicles.

The best thing about Bad Boys is the constant riffing between Smith and Lawrence. Marcus is the married man with children, and Mike’s the smooth-talking ladies’ man. It’s a partnership formula as old as time, but it works. The effortless comedic chemistry between Smith and Lawrence is the reason why audiences have come back again and again to support the franchise. It’s the reason why the third movie did so well, despite the time gap of 17 years and being a January release.

In Roger Ebert’s review, he mentioned “the curious interludes” of verbal sparring between the pair. The two are bickering while on stakeout, there’s constant irritation with the other, and all these interludes allows a familiarity to build between them; it helps their relationship feel real and authentic. I believe that they’ve been partners for 6 years, especially with Mike’s frequent appearance at Marcus’ home and easy familiarity with his family. It also makes sense that while Mike is more familiar with Marcus’ home, it wouldn’t be so the other way around, since both Marcus and Theresa allude to Mike’s scandalous personal life. This lays the comedic groundwork for Marcus’ jealousy and suspicion later on, when Mike stays over at his house.

There’s also a certain gritty realism here that we’ve lost in more contemporary action films. We actually see both Mike and Marcus work the case. They follow up on leads, witnesses, connections, and sometimes hit dead ends before something new comes along to revitalise the case. They also feel like real police officers as opposed to infallible super cops. Early on in the film, Mike actually gets hurt after crashing through a window, and suffers a concussion as a result. The next day, he’s icing his head as he reports for work.

I have to preface my next comment with the fact that I have watched Bad Boys many times before, so maybe that’s why it isn’t as entertaining to me on this most recent rewatch. The movie still makes me laugh, but I wasn’t really invested in the big climatic set piece at the end. I thought the callback to Marcus’ grandma driving skills was great, but overall I didn’t think it brought anything really exciting to the table. In fact, I thought the two earlier set pieces were so much better, and that the movie does run out of steam towards the end. Tchéky Karyo does a competent job as the bad guy Fouchet. He is violent, merciless and absolutely cold-blooded. His performance was so good here that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief when I saw him play the suave, romantic Frenchmen in Addicted to Love a year later.

Watching this movie with fresh, new eyes, it’s clear that the Bad Boys movies are so beloved because of nostalgia. Most of us grew up with these movies, and would have watched them many times over, which explains how I could still remember so much of the movie despite it being years since I’ve watched Bad Boys. It reminds me of moments with my father, his raucous laugh sounding out whenever Smith and Lawrence say or do something funny. Bad Boys is fun and entertaining, and while I think the sequel had more memorable action set pieces, this original movie is no slouch – it’s competent 90s fun.

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