Michael Bay is capable of making great, completely rollicking action films. His particular brand of visual mania has frequently been spectacular, and at times utterly gob-smacking; he’s the king of the money shot, the emperor of the razzle-dazzle trailer. A premiere visual stylist who cut his teeth on snazzy commercials and music videos and clearly influenced by the aesthetics of Tony Scott and John McTiernan (to name just a few), he caught the eye of super producer Jerry Bruckheimer early on, and it’s clear that he’s proud of the loud and massively-scaled summer movies that he unleashes on the multiplexes. Throughout the years he’s been one of the most prolific and successful orchestrators of cinematic chaos that the film world has ever seen. Look no further than The Rock, Bad Boys, The Island, and the first Transformers movie – these are supreme pop-corn entertainments made by a guy who is out to stun his audience with one insanely detailed image after another. Armageddon and Pearl Harbor are both shamelessly entertaining in their earnest cornball hysterics, tapping into an apple-pie sense of Americana that’s hard to resist. I’m also a huge fan of his underrated Pain & Gain, which acts as a treatise on everything that a Bay movie can and should be, but because of the smart screenplay, there’s an element of social satire not seen in any of his other works. And I greatly anticipate his most recent effort, 13 Hours, as it certainly appeared to be his Black Hawk Down; it’s the first Bay film I’ve not seen in theaters and it pisses me off that my streak has been broken.
But when I want to re-live some over the top spectacle, I always come back to Bad Boys II, as I consider it to be the apex of Bay’s vulgar, jocular style, and one of the last balls-to-the-wall, R-rated studio action films that has seen a wide release. Explosive, racist, absurd, divorced from reality, and completely bonkers with its various action set pieces, the film, as friend and critic Paul Rowlands from Money Into Light once stated, is “like an un-ironic remake of Richard Rush’s Freebie and the Bean.” This couldn’t be more apt and knowledgeable. Taking the buddy-cop formula and going complete insane with a rather routine story and mostly serviceable dialogue in between some truly excellent zingers, Bay, Bruckheimer, and a zillion screenwriters, both credited and uncredited, dismantled this well-worn formula and went for broke with some massive-stakes action, all done with a minimum of CGI and loving affection for physical pyrotechnics. Every single moment in this film is jacked for extreme visceral impact, with the ultra-stylized and super saturated images scorching the eye-balls, while all of the almost-impossible to believe action was staged with a minimum of computerized artificiality. And as per usual for a Bay movie, whatever CGI was used is always photo-real, so that you’re never taken out of the moment for a split second.
Seriously – there have been very few big-budget action films to rival this one over the last 15 years. I am not talking on a story/dialogue level – it’s all perfectly standard, nothing more, nothing less, and it won’t win any unpredictability contests. BUT – the style – the ferocity – Amir Mokri’s aggressively sexy and super-glossy yet somehow still gritty cinematography – the confrontational attitude – the obscene stunts – THAT FUCKING CAR CHASE ON THE MIAMI CAUSEWAY – nobody has topped what Bay and Bruckheimer and all the various daredevils on this dangerous production did in this particular genre. Recent films like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Raid 2 might trump Bad Boys II – no question. But from the standpoint of huge entities making a glorified 1980’s B-movie with 2000’s $$$, Bad Boys II is a total riot from start to finish. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have a natural chemistry that is nothing short of special to watch unfold in scene after scene, and as per standard for Bay, his supporting cast deep and strong, with familiar faces and rugged, gruff physiques all on display. Bad Boys II is outlandish, it could care less what you think of it, and it loves itself through and through. Working the front desk at Jerry Bruckheimer Films when this film was in production will forever remain one of the key highlights of my Los Angeles experience.