Bad Boys II, the not-especially-awaited sequel to Bay's 1995 feature debut, is not going to win him or producer Jerry Bruckheimer many points with critics, not that either man could do so if he tried. It may, however, win points with the moviegoing public, or more particularly those who've become very disillusioned with Bay following his craptacular previous two films (Armageddon and Pearl Harbor), which featured PG-13 ratings and Ben Affleck at his very worst, which is saying a lot. Those who prefer their movies with nuance and levels of meaning may not appreciate this, but action movie fans know that there was a big difference between the unrestrained over-the-top Bay-Bruckheimer collaborations (Bad Boys, The Rock) and the pandering teenybopper Affleck vehicles. Let Bay go over the top, and he rocks. Rein him in, and you might manage a good opening weekend, but not a great deal more.
In general, Bad Boys II is Bay unleashed. This is a good thing when it comes to action sequences -- fans of excessive spectacle will definitely dig the car chases that involve flying cadavers. It's a bit less of a good thing between said moments of spectacle, as Bay (who cameos onscreen as "Crappy Car Driver") seems determined to prove that he can pull off the quiet moments as well. Nothing wrong with that, in theory: "Cool down" scenes, if done right, help to pace an action movie and make the next chase all the more heart-pumping. But the key is "if done right"; Bad Boys II runs almost two and a half hours, and a lot of it feels like filler.
In the eight years since the first Bad Boys, little has changed plotwise, except that Téa Leoni has mercifully disappeared, to be replaced by Gabrielle Union. Joe Pantoliano is still the exasperated Miami police chief who stresses out when his top cops blow shit up while managing to let every shred of evidence either evaporate or get pilfered at the last minute, and Theresa Randle's still around as Martin Lawrence's wife, only the actress's once-hot career seems to have dried up, so no one in the audience remembers who she is anymore. Real-life events in the careers of Smith and Lawrence, however, have given their roles a level of irony that was likely not intended -- having Smith play the brash playboy who waves guns around and Lawrence as the responsible family man now feels like a deliberately perverse joke.
It's good to see Lawrence back together with Smith, and not only because Lawrence has made some godawful movies in the last few years: Pairing him with a nonwhite partner means that Lawrence doesn't get to fall back on his tired "keeping the black man down" shtick, which felt phony coming from a $20 million-paycheck performer anyhow. As for Smith, he never lost his charisma, but he did lose audience goodwill with the (somewhat unfairly) maligned Wild Wild West and MIIB: Men in Black II, in part because of the annoying tie-in rap videos he made for both films. Here, the music is left to composer Trevor Rabin and Dr. Dre, who literally do a bang-up job.
There's no plot to get in the way of the story. What little narrative strands there are could possibly be deciphered by someone truly dedicated, but there really isn't any point, when it all boils down to an evil Cuban drug dealer (Blow's Jordi Mollà, boring) and his henchmen being chased by Smith and Lawrence. Who knows what the blond Haitian Rastafarians have to do with anything, or why the KKK decides to have a cross-burning on the waterfront in plain sight to celebrate the smuggling of narcotics. And what's the deal with Peter Stormare's campy Russian gangster, or Ultimate Fighter Oleg Taktarov as his incompetent associate? Don't know, don't care. Stuff gets smashed up real nice, though.
Some of the action bits feel like déjà vu. For the purposes of most who'll go see this film, however, that matters not a whit. Two and a half hours in an air-conditioned theater filled with explosions, crashes, and the odd truly funny bit of interplay between the stars, served up with a gleeful heaping of gratuitous profanity, may be exactly what the summer needs, and that's precisely what Bad Boys II delivers.