Bad Boys for Life

Not that anyone ever took these films seriously, but after “Hot Fuzz” and “Team America”, it seemed to me that the secret was out that these movies are sort of a parody of real cop movies. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider did long surveillance in seedy conditions, ate and drank crappy food in cramped cars and mostly the car chases were collision courses in old cars. Cops drew their guns but were careful about firing, and if they weren’t the ending was downbeat rather than celebratory. The early Michael Bay films took action to extremes, mixed the improbable with some humor and amped up the violence. It was a formula for success twenty years ago. Apparently, it still works in spite of the passage of time and the mocking of tropes that has gone on since the last time Will Smith and Martin Lawrence saddled up to sing and shoot.

I saw both of the previous films once each. I enjoyed them at the time but I have almost no recall of plot or other characters. The movies are strictly disposable entertainment. Nothing wrong  with that, but if I’m going to put a Michael Bay film on repeatedly, it’s going to be “The Rock”. I did not have high expectations for the film but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it while I was in the theater. Bay does not direct [Although he does make an appearance], the directing team of Bilal Fallah and Adil El Arbi have the reins and they ride this pony for all it’s worth. It does not have the pacing of a Bay film, but everything else is there, glamour, explosions, over the top violence and shiny images and people. It’s like the 80s never died and “Miami Vice” became the biggest influence on movie making since “Jaws”.

Before he put on the fat suit and dressed as a transvestite, Martin Lawrence was a pretty reliable comic actor in action films and urban based comedies. This movie reminds us of why he was a star for most of the 90s. Maybe he has worked more sparingly in the last few years because the material did not fit him, but for this film it does. Will Smith is still the first name above the title but Lawrence is the acting hero in this movie. The comedy is not slapstick but based on a couple of premises. The usual trope of retirement is used to gain some sympathy. His character is also a new Grandpa.  It is the second premise that I appreciated more though. His character Marcus has emotional regrets about the violence he has inflicted on the world and he is trying to make good on a deal with God to be a better man. Of course by the end that will fly out the window, but until it does it gives Lawrence plenty of opportunities to riff on his characters self doubts and the more conservative person he has become as a father/grandfather figure.

Will Smith plays Will Smith. He is still cock of the walk confident and handsome. Yet he is also getting older and some acknowledgement of that was called for. The turn in the third act seems a little close to his film from last year but I won’t say too much. The plot does try to introduce new blood into the storyline and you can see the blueprint being laid down for future episodes of the series. It’s probably a good idea that he follows the lead of Tom Cruise, make a franchise film in your comfort zone every couple of years, and people will not notice when the mediocre films flop as much.

The action is insane at times, including a climax in a burning hotel that features a helicopter explosion inside of an abandoned building. The motorcycle chase can’t stand up to the Mission Impossible standards that have set the bar recently, but there are some good moments and a lot of gunplay to go with it. I don’t think this edition of the buddy cop franchise is necessarily better than the previous two, but since it is recent, I can remember a bit more of what happened. Give me a couple of years and it will fade too. Then maybe I can watch all of them again before the inevitable “Bad Boys 4” gets unleashed.

Aladdin (2019)

The long daggers have been out for this movie since it was announced. How dare Disney remake “Aladdin”, how dare Will Smith get cast as the Genie, What the hell is Guy Richie doing as the director of this movie?  The purists were waiting with their skepticism and animus and you could here snarky comments everywhere. The same criticisms that have been made by people who hated on “Beauty and the Beast“, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Dumbo“.  While admittedly the last two were misfires, “Beauty and the Beast” managed to catch fire at the box office and please a lot of fans of that movie. “The Jungle Book” also managed to overcome early doubts and be a critical as well as commercial success. So the question now is which category is this film going to end up in, Disney Magic pile or Tim Burton tinkering wreck? …I’m going to make you wait a little while longer to find out what I thought. First, I have an answer to a question that many have asked, why is Disney on a remake kick.?

Obviously it is ultimately about money.  Disney is a corporation that employs thousands, has millions of investors, and is the largest movie studio in the world right now. Before the mid eighties and after the death of founder Walt Disney, the studio suffered a long nearly fallow period as a film business. They put out family films that were cookie cutter product with a limited vision, and the new animation projects like “Robin Hood, The Rescuers and The Black Cauldron” were creatively weak. The company had relied on their seven year marketing of the vault films to keep the studio afloat. So what if “The Rescuers” under-performs, we have Pinocchio to play in the summer. When you have a golden goose in the cupboard dropping eggs every seven to ten years, you can get a little complacent. It was actually when the dreaded corporate types like Michael Eisner and Jeffery Wells participated in storming the Magic Kingdom, that such complacency was smothered. There was one other problem however, technology. The home video revolution that came about with the video tape recorder put the lid on the potential of these movies to be evergreens, at least in the theater. As the classic animated movies were released on home video, a new revenue stream was created but at the expense of the old one. The old platform would not sustain itself on product that people could own and watch at home, so new product has to fill the theatrical chute. We got live action remakes of “The Jungle Book” in 1994 and “101 Dalmatians” in 1996. These set the template for a remake, tell the same story but do so differently. The biggest worries most people have about the upcoming “Lion King” remake is that it will be a shot for shot reproduction. The trick however is to give us the familiar, while also making it unique enough to draw in an audience. Does “Aladdin” walk the tightrope? I’d say yes.

There are some important key differences between the animated film and this live-action version. Princess Jasmine is a much more assertive character in this telling of the tale. She does not just want to choose who to marry, she wants to be Sultan herself. Aladdin is a thief, but he is one that has some scruples and those are emphasized more in his relationship to Jasmine. Instead of a buffoon, the Sultan is an over protective father and is under the spell of the vizier Jaffar from early on. Jaffar’s plans include an expansion of military power against neighboring countries, but the loyalty of the palace soldiers is to the Sultan. Some of this is ladled on to make the story more adult but it also makes some of the character actions more understandable. The biggest difference is the Genie himself. Robin Williams brilliant comedy riffs can’t be replicated but the Genie has to have a fun and friendly relationship to the title character and those have to fit the actor who portrays him. Will Smith has been devoting the last seven years to films that don’t play to his comic strengths but rather his acting skill, and he has been hit or miss. The role of Genie gives him a chance to put on the jocular persona he was known for and make it work as part of the story. Also, he can sing and he dances a little. From the early reaction to film clips, you’d have thought his CGI appearance was amateurish and either you wanted him blue or you hated the idea of him actually being blue, or both. The way it plays out in the film is perfectly fine and should satisfy the contradictory impulses of those critics.

We do get several numbers from the animated film repeated, but with enough differences to make the experience worth it. I was a little underwhelmed by the early clip of the “Prince Ali” song. On the small screen it loses it’s impact and it looks a little silly. With the power of the full sized screen however, you can enjoy the expansiveness of the dance number an appreciate the more subtle CGi and concomitant use of real sets and actors in the sequence. “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me” is filled with Will Smith moments rather than trying to replicate Williams version. In fact most of the songs had some nice updates on their lyrics and the comic bits from Smith and Richie are more universal than the now dated references from the 1992 film. One of the nice improvements is the way the narrator character from the animated film has been replaced and the new version integrates that character into the story.

I enjoyed the Bollywood style dancing and the gymnastics that are set throughout the film. Again, I saw several people disgruntled with the trailers but when things are seen in total they work pretty well. Guy Richie had some clever camera movements during the chase scenes and the travelogue moments are are interesting. I ended up being very pleased with the movie in spite of my own indifference. This came out three weeks ago and I was not in any hurry to see it, but now that I have, I wish I’d gone earlier, it’s very entertaining and it feeds the beast.

Suicide Squad

I’m not a comics guy as I’m sure I’ve said a couple of times before. My guess is that the number of people like me, those who will see a comic based movie without knowing the whole cannon, outnumber the people who can tell you that the eye-shadow on the Joker is inconsistent with the history established in volume 274 of the Dark Knight Series 3 featuring the four fingered Joker variation (or some such detail).  In other words, I’m not so invested in the characters that I can’t handle change. There was a lot of talk when this film was being produced about whether it could meet the fans expectations. Other than Harley Quinn and the Joker, I’ve never heard of any of these characters, so maybe my opinion will be discounted by some because I am not invested. As the summer season came on, the buzz was that “Suicide Squad” would be the film to make the comic book fans happy. When the first reviews started coming in, there was a stampede of disappointment and negative word of mouth started to set in. From many of the critics, you would think this film was a bomb. The box office so far has to be comforting to the film makers in spite of the poor notices. But, from the view of this outsider, the film is largely successful in what it is attempting, and suffers from the same problem that all big action films do, a weak antagonist makes a weaker story.


We are fortunate that we do not have to wade through a series of stand alone films to be set up in this universe. The first half hour or so of the movie, inventories the characters, highlights their quirks, and establishes personality for them very effectively. These small vignettes are probably the most effective sequences in the movie. I will say that it was a bit of a give away that one member of the team is introduced when they are put together and there was no B Roll on their character in the first section. So guess which character will be sacrificed to show that the secret government agency in charge means business. There has also been talk that Jared Leto’s Joker has been significantly excised from the film, that seems to be a lot of hot air. The Joker Character figures in one of the background stories, participates in a parallel story, and is part of the coda of the film. It is true he is not on the team, but that does not mean that his presence is insignificant.  Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn will certainly be the breakout character in the film and she can expect to explode in the business over the next few years. Miss Robbie is extremely watchable and carries off her part here with great panache.


Let’s discuss a couple of weaknesses of the film. It turns out that the Big Bad the group has to face is created by the attempt to create the group in the first place. All of the characters are given such menacing  back stories that the quickness with which the authorities try to establish a working team seems unrealistic ( as if anything in this didn’t already). There are a couple of actions that have to be done by the team that seem unnecessary, including the rescue of an unidentified figure at ground zero of the main fracas. It also makes no sense that the plan of action being followed involves a simple explosive device, when the secondary antagonist seems to be impervious to other weapons. Also, the idea that it could take out a member of the team also seems inconsistent with what has been established earlier. In other films, the duo of Jai Courtney and Joel Kinnaman would threaten to but me to sleep. Both of these guys have been charisma free in other films, but this time around they get a chance to shine a little and Courtney especially makes a favorable impression.

The main villain seems a bit of a stretch, but in the D.C. Universe they are working at creating, maybe it is plausible. The representation however is so horror film fetish bound that it looks ridiculous. At the climax of the film, the bad guy is basically doing the most stupid voodoo dancing and arm waving this side of the 1976 remake of King Kong.  The problem that happens when you give a character powers to make them a worthy opponent is that you also have to find a flaw that gives the heroes (sic) a chance. Things did not come together well in this regard and the confrontation feels like a giant CGI smackdown without much credibility.

The soundtrack is packed with music from the last fifty years so there will be plenty that audiences can relate to, although sometimes the choices seem a little hokey. The color palate of the film is neon without becoming overly cliched and tiresome. There is also a lot more humor in this film than the two films that preceded it in the MCU queue. There are some very clear tie ins to this years Batman v. Superman and Bruce Wayne has a couple of scenes that tie it together even more. Viola Davis is a stone cold hard ass as Amanda Waller, the covert intelligence officer responsible for the team.  There is a point where Will Smith’s Deadshot asks facetiously, “and we’re supposed to be the bad guys?”, it is Waller’s character that he is referring to. So I’m down with the characters and the performances for the most part. I also think the movie looks very solid. Where they lost me was in creating an obstacle for the team to overcome. It feels a bit too overheated. It may not be the widespread opinion, but I think this film is fine and it accomplishes what is needed, a set of premises for the film and an outrageous team being put together in a reasonable manner. Now all Ben Afflect has to do as Batman, is repeat the process, only recruit the Justice League members with a bit more elegance. Ignore the bad word, it’s a solid film with some flaws but also a lot going for it.