Crashing Bore

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bad Boys II is the apotheosis of adolescent junk. Every sequence spews or splats carnage-filled effects. It's over-the-top, but not pleasurably so - it's calculatedly over-the-top. The only way to get off on it is to revel in its prodigal waste of materiel. More bullets get shot, more cars totaled, more dummies crushed or decapitated than in the Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon series combined.

It's fitting that the movie features filthy lucre stuffed in coffins and eviscerated bodies. The director, Michael Bay, hasn't added a single fresh ingredient.

Bay made his feature debut and enjoyed his first big hit eight years ago with the initial Bad Boys. One hesitates to say the "original" Bad Boys, because even that film was a flashily patched retread of a decade's worth of buddy cop films. Still, it gave Will Smith a chance to turn matinee idol as Mike Lowrey, an improbable playboy policeman with a trust fund, and Martin Lawrence the opportunity to mug at will as Marcus Burnett, his family-man partner on the Miami force.

With Bad Boys II, Bay has simply super-sized his franchise. Lowrey now wears two stud earrings.

Bay exhausts his imagination in the opening frames of Ecstasy pills sliding down a chute as noisily as bowling balls. The movie revolves around a $150 million shipment of the drug, but the way Bay makes movies, plot lines function only as launch pads for carnage and vehicular mayhem. The opening half-hour of this unconscionably long (2 1/2 hours) movie is like a non-musician's idea of an overture, laying out elements that will crash against each other more noisily as the film goes on.

Lowrey and Burnett and their TNT (Tactical Narcotics Team) aren't the only ones tracking the pills; so is the DEA, including Burnett's sister Syd (Gabrielle Union), who is, unbeknown to her brother, both working undercover and having an affair with Lowrey. On the other side of the law, a Cuban kingpin (Jordi Molla) has been preparing to consolidate his hold on the Miami market, even if it means muscling out his Russian partners (Peter Stormare and Oleg Taktarov).

For the sake of a demolition-derby freeway pursuit, there's also a gun-toting Haitian gang that commandeers a truck loaded with cars and sends them soaring in the direction of Lowrey's Ferrari. Bay must feel that all he has to do is create enough anarchy to make his heroes' pedal-to-the-metal and shoot-'em-up reactions the only valid responses to perilous circumstances.

Actually, Smith's Lowrey is the one who usually takes the wheel and holds the smoking guns; Lawrence's Burnett pleads for caution and is so at odds with his partner that he has requested a transfer. When Burnett discovers that Syd has put herself in jeopardy, however, he gets gung-ho about the Ecstasy case. Of course, before the movie ends, Burnett's psychologically therapeutic mantra, something like "Wahoosah," gives way to his and Lowrey's old motto, "We ride together, we die together: Bad boys for life."

The anger-management and relaxation motif itself becomes relentless - even the duo's blustery captain (Joe Pantoliano) blurts out "Wahoosah" under stress and sports a Buddhist shrine on his desk. The comic potential in this movie partly derives from Ron Shelton, who shares final script credit with the talented Jerry Stahl (TV's CSI, the book Permanent Midnight); the delightful, underrated Hollywood Homicide, which Shelton wrote and directed, created character comedy and slapstick in the midst of bullet-riddled ballets. But Bad Boys II shortcuts the comedy by going straight for the punch lines and then repeating them.

Bay doesn't know how to tell a joke, any more than he knows how to set up an emotionally satisfying action scene. He goes for punch lines like "Wahoosah" the way he goes for "money shots" like a speedboat sailing over the top of a car, knowing that if he sustains a spurious energy, the testosterone-crazed teen-male audience will respond to the silliness of one and the perverse audacity of the other.

Bay does have a knack for giving pubescent boys their kicks; he has a corrupt instinct for mixing the right amount of pyrotechnics and kinetics. He realizes that for his audience, it's not enough to send Lowrey and Burnett hurtling down a steep hillside dotted with drug-lab shacks; for the sequence to deliver the requisite cheap thrills, they must hurtle through the shacks and set them ablaze.

As a result, the movie is ludicrously over-scaled. Most of the actors fade into the blasted plaster and bent metal - including Smith, who mostly Mr. Cools himself out, and the Cubans, who are parodying the hot-blooded decadence in Brian De Palma's Scarface, which was already a parody. Lawrence, with his giant family-portion double takes, becomes the heart of the movie, even though he's the wacky comic. The movie becomes the straight man, because it's crazier than he is.

Bad Boys II

Starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith

Directed by Michael Bay

Rated R

Released by Sony

Time 144 minutes

Sun Score * 1/2

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