'Bad Boys II' Is a Transformative Piece of Black Cinema
'Bad Boys II' is the perfect meeting of art and commerce that inevitably results in an explosion.
Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures
"Wait, you ain't seen Bad Boys II?!" asks Nick Frost's can't-get-right small town cop character in Hot Fuzz. It's a valid question, and any time it comes up in conversation with a new acquaintance who thinks they're above the lowbrow shit, I ask the same thing. It might be a crass action-comedy film stuffed with a million explosions and some dead naked people, but that doesn't change the fact that Bad Boys II is a transformative piece of black cinema.
The original Bad Boys was the first in an unstoppable wave of Jerry Bruckheimer/Don Simpson/Michael Bay hits in the mid-and-late-90s that all shared a big dickin', go-hard aesthetic. Lots of attack choppers, lots of sweaty dudes in filthy tank tops exchanging heavy weapons fire, lots of brawny hypercars shouting a big "fuck you" to the established laws of physics and the ozone layer.Bad Boys got a sequel in 2003 for the same reason many films get sequels. Call it a cash grab (the original did make its budget back seven times over after all), call it the death of originality, call it whatever the fuck you want. But the fact remains that art has to meet commerce at some point, and if Michael Bay is involved, that meeting will most likely involve a gigantic fucking explosion.
This film's most striking aspect isn't its vivid Miami palette or the chases or related flash and flesh. It's that it exists as a buddy cop movie where both officers are black. One need only look at the Wayans Brothers' White Chicks to get a glimpse of what Hollywood thinks of the notion of two strong black leads enforcing the law in tandem. I can't judge that film too harshly, but I also can't take the "black foolishness" canon for anything more than what Spike Leecalls"coonery and buffoonery," a schtick the Wayans brothers have used to make millions.
Throughout their careers, both Smith ( Enemy of the State, Independence Day, the Men in Blackfranchise) and Lawrence (Christ, where do I begin?) have been paired up with white leading men to whom they would play the colorful (see what I did there?), shoot-from-the-hip foil to the straight-laced white alpha. Bad Boys II isn't Sidney Poitier-level shit obviously, but the black foolishness is kept in check to an extent that even Martin hasn't been able to resist elsewhere in his filmography. (I'm looking at you Big Momma's House trilogy.)
For the uninitiated, the film picks up years after the events of 1995's Bad Boys, duh. The strained yet symbiotic partnership between Miami supercops Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey has landed them a promotion to Miami's TNT (Tactical Narcotics Team). That Henry Rollins is said team's tactician is about all you need to know as to how hard these cats go.
As for our protagonists, Lawrence's Marcus is the family man on a quest for serenity and balance by any means necessary, serving as the yang to the yin of Smith's Mike, the manchild trust-punk lothario, an "I don't want no pigeons" type of brother with a fade that would make your mama's mama blush. Indeed, Smith played the walking manifestation of "Don't hate the player, hate the motherfucking game." Say it with me now: Mike Lowwwwwwreeeeyyy.
With this cop love thang established, a plot begins to unfurl surrounding TNT's hard-on for taking down drug kingpin Johnny Tapia. This villa-bound cross between Tony Montana and a telenovela antagonist has a soft spot for his mama and daughter, but he won't hesitate to peel one's cap back if you "fail him for the last time." He's been flooding the city with bomb pills, and it's attracting all the worst kinds of attention. As is wont to happen with these types in such a situation, conflict develops and lots of dudes get blown away by Uzis and MAC-11s. There's a highway chase thrown in for good measure involving Mike in his Ferrari 550 Maranello and car-hurling Haitians on a car carrier that's like watching an episode of "Martin" spliced with The French Connection.
Later in the film, Marcus accidentally hits a tab of ecstasy and manages to sell it perfectly, an outlier in such scenes. Every time I take in the unpleasantness of him running through traffic on Ventura Blvd., wielding a pistol and yelling "Fight the establishment!" at strangers, I get the sense that this is actually what it would be like to watch Runteldat-era Martin roll. He plays the scene a lot like how he played the best bits of his sitcom, which is to say: All the way. Sweating bullets and slurring his speech, there's a point where you actually worry for his safety on set, as though he was actually dosed with the type of Superman pills that can take the party to the ER real quick. The term "action-comedy" gets thrown around a lot today, but the Marcus and Mike tag-team doesn't let the comedy get drowned out by the explosions, redlining engines, and AK-47 fire.
The film also offers a compelling portrayal of black cops—one that counters the trope seen in 90s-era films like Boyz N the Hood, where the black officer is so filled with self-hatred, he's more racists than the whites.
Black cops with something to prove to their white counterparts have long been the closest thing I've ever had to a proper nemesis. On more occasions than I'd like to remember, black cops were there to remind me of my blackness, lest the white officers forgot to. When stopped by police while strolling through the "wrong" neighborhoods at the "wrong" time, it's been the black cops who've called me "boy" rather than the white ones.
It's hard to understand why a black man would even want to join the police, considering they help lock up one in every 15 adult black males, according to the Pew Center. Not to mention, Black kids are ten times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white kids (as Yeezy said, "Jerome get more time than Brandon"), despite the fact that white kids are more likely to abuse drugs. Still, Bad Boys II is great enough to make me think that some cops, as unlikely as it is, might not be universally horrible people.
It was until a few years ago, at a 35mm screening of BBII hosted by Dan Deacon and video artist Jimmy Joe Roche, that the full power of the film hit me. On the edge of my seat during the kinetic 147 minutes, that sense of shock-and-awe that I had after I saw the film for the first time in 2003.
In the years since that initial viewing, I've become more jaded, have seen tons of "real" films, and I've even thrown my hat in the film criticism ring here and there. Yet in an age where self-serious Oscar bait contends with unapologetically hollow blockbusters and overhyped indies, Bad Boys II still holds a special place in my heart because it does not give a fuck. Its unheralded greatness is the kind that Vin Diesel is thinking about when he claims that Furious 7 deserves the Oscar for Best picture. And he's right. If there were any justice in this world, a movie likeBad Boys II—that defies expectations and shifts the paradigms of race and cinematic genres—deserves to be winning the awards.
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