The prize stallion in producer Jerry Bruckheimer's stable of blockbuster action stylists, director Michael Bay graduated from commercials and music videos with 1995's Bad Boys, a rote buddy-cop thriller that in retrospect seems like the opening salvo in an ongoing revolution. More than any current filmmaker, Bay has leveled the careful building blocks of narrative cinema, knocking them down with the exuberant brand of flashy gigantism on display in The Rock, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor. For the seconds (and fractions of seconds) they're onscreen, his images are undeniably pristine; perhaps they'd even be breathtaking, if only there were enough time to catch a breath between them. Hacked into a whole, the flood of pretty pictures gives the impression of speed and excitement, but the visual language is close to indecipherable, akin to a German vacation experienced entirely on the Autobahn. Somewhere in the editing suite for Bad Boys II (a predictably bigger and dumber return to the well), footage for the most gripping car chase since William Friedkin and John Frankenheimer's heyday likely sits in a computer bin, cut to virtual ribbons. As wisecracking cops Will Smith and Martin Lawrence pursue a band of drug-runners along a Miami freeway, pileups and near-misses are choreographed with startling physicality, highlighted by a car transporter that slings its carriage like a catapult. Bay doesn't seem to care if it's impossible to fathom where the vehicles are going or where they are in relation to each other, just so long as the immediate impact is felt. Smith, Lawrence, hothead police captain Joe Pantoliano, and a heaping dollop of homosexual panic all reprise their roles for the sequel, which reheats another generic plot about murderous druglords and busted scores. This time, the bickering Smith/Lawrence duo faces off against Cuban Ecstasy importer Jordi Mollà, whose mortuary business allows him to smuggle cash in coffins and stuff his pill-bags into the hollowed-out corpses. Their efforts to crack down on Mollà's operation and quash a brewing drug war with a Russian gangster (Peter Stormare) are complicated by Martin's sister Gabrielle Union, who has been working undercover for the DEA and also happens to be sweet on Smith. In devising the idiot plot, apparently no one in the distinguished committee of screenwriters could figure out a smart way to infiltrate Mollà's estates. In one scene, Smith and Lawrence disguise themselves as exterminators hired to kill the rats gnawing on Mollà's money stash; in another, a siege begins with officers hurling cats and iguanas over the compound wall. As the stars ease too confidently into their familiar chemistry–in this gas-guzzler of a film, they get incredible mileage out of Martin getting shot in the ass–Bay ratchets up the Maxim factor with plenty of girls, gears, guns, and gadgets. The redux would be merely shameless, were it not so unsettling: If Bay's two-and-a-half-hour assault on the senses isn't enough cause to reach for the Pepto, there's also the disquieting punchlines of a KKK cross-burning ceremony and desecrated corpses splattering on the city streets. Bad Boys II is the rare case in which escapism involves leaving the theater.
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