Six Degrees of Degradation

Far be it from me to second-guess the platinum-plated producing tandem of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Money talks, and nowhere does its voice carry more weight than in Hollywood, where the Simpson-Bruckheimer team churn out sleek but vapid entertainments that regularly rack up spectacular box-office returns. Since their initial coproduction A the 1983 blockbuster Flashdance A the duo has gone on to gross over $2.5 billion. They have a simple formula and they follow it to phenomenal (and repeated) success: easy-to-grasp concept, glossy production, embarrassingly improbable but fast-moving plot, saturation marketing. Their movies fall apart under even the most cursory critical scrutiny, but they sure do make those cash registers ring.

Simpson and Bruckheimer have mastered the art of attractively packaging garbage. Look at their credits: Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Days of Thunder, the aforementioned Jennifer Beals magnum opus. Guns N' Roses videos boast more thoughtful narratives and better realized multidimensional characters. Is it too cynical to wonder if Team Suckheimer dreams up a promotional trailer first and then hires writers to construct some sort of cockamamie story to pad the length?

How else to explain their latest effort, the imbecilic Martin Lawrence-Will Smith vehicle Bad Boys? I can picture that deal coming together: Jerry Bruckheimer flips through the channels on his TV and randomly lands on Cops. The program's content doesn't interest him much, but he really digs that catchy theme song by Miami's own Inner Circle. He calls his partner.

Bruckheimer: "Don? Jer. You seen this TV show, Cops?"
Simpson: "Yeah. I liked it the first couple times I saw it, but it gets old. Not enough blood. Ugly hookers."

Bruckheimer: "Yeah, but isn't that song great?" [He sings] "Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do..."

Simpson: "...Whatcha gonna do when they come for you? What about it?"
Bruckheimer: "I think it's got potential. We could build a movie around it. Like a Miami Vice meets Beverly Hills Cop thing."

Simpson (warming to the idea): "I like it. Miami's hip. We could shoot it there. I hear they'll kiss your ass if you look like you might throw a little money around. No unions to worry about. I'll call Eddie [Murphy, of course]. No, wait A better still, this kid Martin What's-his-name, he's got that show on Fox? You know, 'You go, girl!' He'll be a lot cheaper. Besides, Eddie's seen better days."

Bruckheimer: "Yeah, yeah, good idea. Martin. The kids like him. And with the money we save by not using Eddie, we can give Martin a partner. Better looking. But black. That'll be the hook. Two black cops in Miami. Maybe one of the Wayans brothers..."

Simpson: "How 'bout that Fresh Prince kid? I heard he was pretty good in Six Degrees of Separation."

Bruckheimer: "Never saw it."
Simpson: "Me either. But I heard he was okay. Besides, what're we gonna make him say? Two, three sentences at the most? Plus, we can probably still get him cheap, too. Then we go out and find a director who's shot a few videos, maybe a slick commercial or two, and we give him his first crack at a feature. In exchange we pay him beans. Everywhere we turn, we save money. Gives us more to spend on the important stuff like explosions and car crashes. I like this one, Jerry. We stick the two of them together, make them partners. Only they're like opposites, right? One's an adrenaline junkie, the other's a family man living paycheck to paycheck. Just like Lethal Weapon, only younger and blacker. They needle each other a lot, but their relationship is founded on mutual respect. Put 'em on a big drug ripoff case or something."

Bruckheimer: "Yeah, they have to solve this big ripoff and they only have a couple days to do it. That should keep things moving. And here's the twist A the family man has to protect a sexy witness, while his Casanova partner keeps an eye on the wife and kids!"

Simpson (chortling with glee): "You think anyone'll buy it?"
Bruckheimer: "You kidding? They bought Jennifer Beals as a welder, didn't they?"

Just as they did in Flashdance, the filmmakers let us know right away that credibility will not be a factor. A few examples: The drug heist that opens Bad Boys looks as if it would cost more to pull off than the street value of the purloined heroin. A stunningly attractive, revealingly attired high-priced call girl works out with weights in a seedy, rundown boxing gym full of grunting Neanderthals. A cop who cannot bench-press 135 pounds takes out two goons with his bare hands. The hooker lives with an out-of-work photographer who occasionally tags along on tricks, blissfully clueless as to what her roommate does for a living. When shooting erupts, said shutterbug miraculously becomes the Bionic Woman, leaping from the top floor of the Biltmore Hotel into the pool below and nonchalantly emerging from the water as if fourteen-story jumps are routine. A cop chasing a bad guy dives onto the roof of a getaway taxi and clings to it spread-eagle as it weaves through traffic; the bad guy riding inside squeezes off a few rounds through the roof and misses. And so on and so on.

In other words, it's ludicrous. But that hasn't stopped the Suckheimers in the past. Like Beverly Hills Cop (which this film makes one nostalgic for), Bad Boys relies on a volatile mix of brutal violence, irreverent comedy, and clever-black-lawman-versus-sinister-white-criminal shtick. The producers bank heavily on the appeal of charismatic TV stars Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, and to best showcase their hot young leads have enlisted a suitably hot young director, Michael Bay, whose music videos have won MTV Awards and whose commercials for big-money patrons such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and Miller Lite have garnered a Commercial of the Year Clio in the U.S. and a Gold Lion at Cannes. Bay's work here is exactly as visually fresh and lacking in substance as his background in short-attention-span productions would lead one to expect. And to complete the package, the modern moguls have that infectious, well-known title song with which to score the all-important promotional trailer and TV ad campaign. Out in Hollywood they understand: Lawrence and Smith may play the bad boys on film, but when it comes to box-office thunder, Simpson and Bruckheimer are the real top guns.

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