If director Michael Bay can be proud of nothing else from a career that spans "Armageddon," "The Rock," "Pearl Harbor" and the original "Bad Boys," the slow-motion bullet hit and exploding head might be his crowning achievement in the devolution of Hollywood action. He likes the gruesome effect so much he uses it twice in "Bad Boys II," which shouldn't be a surprise since excess and overkill are the movie's highest priorities.
Superstar producer Jerry Bruckheimer's reteaming of Bay with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence was inevitable since the low-budgeted "Bad Boys" became one of the top-grossing hits of 1995, pretty much launching the big-screen careers of all involved.
Eight years later and that company — not to mention their audience — is bursting with the ego demands of more action, more car crashes, trashier talk, bigger explosions, prettier guns and all the budgetary overload a studio sequel can handle. "Bad Boys II" delivers, but as nearly every summertime spectacle is proving this year, more seems more and more like less.
Miami narcotic cops Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are in the thick of busting an Ecstasy import/distribution operation run by a flamboyant Cuban kingpin named Tapia (Jordi Mollà, aping the role he played in "Blow" and Al Pacino's Tony Montana in "Scarface").
Their partnership is straining thin after the years; Mike's still the partying player and Marcus the high-strung family man. Smith and Lawrence's chemical mix is also strained. They click a little less in the buddy banter, partly because of that eight-year ego inflation and partly because of the amplified Bruckheimer/Bay bombast.
Fortunately they get lots of chances to crack wise, usually in the middle of a high-speed car chase, an illegal wiretap operation, or while they're "breaking the world record for gun fights in a week," as Marcus puts it.
Thrown into the comedy and post-"Miami Vice" drug-cop drama is the character of Marcus' sister (Gabrielle Union), a DEA agent on the same case and a love interest for Mike. But it's all just a setup for action, violence and more action, preferably witnessed by multiple cameras with at least three explosions, blood squib bursts or destroyed luxury cars per shot.
In a long set piece across Miami's MacArthur Causeway featuring dreadlocked Haitian assassins and a trailer truck loaded with new sedans, the vehicular carnage is so extensive the production must have had to open a scrap yard. Another sequence involves mangled cars and mangled flesh as multicorpse hearses and cadavers used in the drug operation start hitting the road — literally.
"Bad Boys II" is the latest summer actioner to seamlessly mix camera tricks, computer graphics and practical effects in a real-world setting. The result can be impressive — there's a cool shootout shot that whirls between walls and through bullet holes — but not if the slam-bang editing makes everything a bewildering jumble.
Ah, well. Such is the fate of a numbered tentpole blockbuster. With all the brains of "Charlie's Angels 2" and mechanical mayhem of "Terminator 3," "Bad Boys II" still represents some kind of high in the low culture of summer sequels.
Ted Fry: firstname.lastname@example.org