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MOVIE REVIEWS : A Simple Game of Cops and Robbers : But 'Bad Boys' Plot Isn't Up to the Talents of Its Charismatic Stars

April 07, 1995|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

Given how much good "Bad Boys" is going to do for Martin Lawrence's feature career, it's a pity the film couldn't do any more for itself.

Seeing Lawrence, the star of TV's "Martin," prove himself as a potent comic force on the big screen is reminiscent of watching Eddie Murphy ignite in "48HRS." And co-star Will Smith, though his role is less flashy, makes his usual strong impact as well.

Though audiences will leave theaters with an increased appreciation of this pair's talents, they will also leave pondering the perennial Hollywood question: How come so little of interest could be found for performers who are capable of so much more?

Produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer ("Beverly Hills Cop," "Top Gun"), "Bad Boys" is, not surprisingly, a high-concept cops-and-robbers film with a role-reversal plot that could, if necessary, be made to fit on the head of a pin.

Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Smith) are odd-couple partners on the Miami police force. Marcus is an untidy family man, devoted to his wife and three kids, while Mike is a moneyed playboy who lives in a pristine penthouse and has more girlfriends than Coral Gables has grains of sand.

Enter Fouchet (French actor Tcheky Karyo), one of those criminal geniuses whose European accent is irrefutable proof of ruthlessness and acuity. He undertakes a smooth heist of $100 million in heroin which, embarrassingly enough, happened to be under lock and key in police headquarters. Naturally, Marcus and Mike get the job of getting it back. "Just do what you do," their captain tells them helpfully, "only faster."

The team's only lead is (surprise) an attractive young woman named Julie Mott (Tea Leoni). For reasons too silly to relate, she comes to believe that Marcus is Mike and Mike is Marcus. And since the captain believes the investigation would suffer irreparable harm if she were told the truth, happily married Marcus has to pretend he is the womanizer and Mike has to hang out with his partner's wife and kids.

Flimsy as this premise is, both actors find the humor in it, though Smith, who made a strong impression in "Six Degrees of Separation," gets the smaller share of the laughs. Partly this is because his character is conceived of primarily as the straight man and partly because it's hard to be funnier than Martin Lawrence.

As those who made it through his scabrous concert film, "You So Crazy," can testify, Lawrence is a treat to watch whether his language is tame or otherwise. "Bad Boys" doesn't give him the kinds of bravura scenes Murphy got in "48HRS.," but even in smaller moments, like having difficulty with the speed bag at a boxing gym or getting queasy when corpses are around, he doesn't have to do anything special to make you smile.

What makes Lawrence and Smith's success notable is that they do what they do without much help, either from their co-stars (though Theresa Randle as Marcus' wife is effective as always), the film's more-is-less crew of writers (script by Michael Barrie & Jim Mulholland and Doug Richardson, story by George Gallo) or even first-time director Michael Bay.

*

A boy-wonder commercial-maker, Bay has not made use of the wit that characterized his award-winning Aaron Burr/Got Milk spot. He and cinematographer Howard Atherton have given "Bad Boys" a slick look, but instead of cleverness he's served up standard-issue explosions, heroines who wear nothing but short skirts, and interminable noisy bickering between Mike and Marcus.

So while "Bad Boys" is unremarkable, you might want to write Martin Lawrence's name down for future reference. Maybe by the time his next film comes around, someone in the business will have figured out a better way to utilize his ability.

* MPAA rating: R, for intense violent action and pervasive strong language. Times guidelines: bloody and profane from beginning to end.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

'Bad Boys' Martin Lawrence: Marcus Burnett Will Smith: Mike Lowrey Tea Leoni: Julie Mott Tcheky Karyo: Fouchet Theresa Randle: Theresa Burnett A Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Michael Bay. Producers Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer. Executive producers Bruce S. Pustin, Lucas Foster. Screenplay Michael Barrie & Jim Mulholland and Doug Richardson. Story by George Gallo. Cinematographer Howard Atherton. Editor Christian Wagner. Costumes Bobbie Read. Music Mark Mancina. Production design John Vallone. Art director Peter Politanoff. Set decorator Kate Sullivan. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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