Is ‘Bad Boys 3’ a sign of what’s ahead for Sony under Mike De Luca’s leadership?

When I first started writing about movies online, we were smack-dab in the middle of the first era of Mike De Luca. At that point, he was the enfant terrible of New Line Pictures, the guy who helped transform them from a sort of low-grade exploitation house into the studio that ended up winning Best Picture with “Return Of The King.” De Luca was the risk-taker, the guy who championed films like “Boogie Nights,” and along with Richard Brener and Stokely Chafin, he built New Line into something bigger and better than just “the house that Freddy built.”

De Luca was young, though, and he embraced a certain kind of lifestyle that led to bad press, fair or unfair. He became a liability for the company, and he eventually left under a dark cloud. It has taken him years to build himself back up, and he’s done it by working hard and completely rebuilding his image in the industry. When he was just promoted to co-president of production for Sony Pictures, it was a major, major moment for him, a redemption fulfilled, and it happens at a moment where the industry could use a guy with the same sort of edgy sensibilities that made him such a superstar in the first place.

Maybe that’s why Mike Fleming’s story today about Sony hiring David Guggenheim for “Bad Boys 3” makes me uneasy. He makes it sound like De Luca’s big job at the company is mining their IP for things that can be rebooted or sequelized without breaking the bank. Both “Ghostbusters” and “Men In Black” are mentioned as complete reboots, franchises they plan to start over from scratch. That’s news, buried completely in the story, since the last few times anyone’s mentioned “Ghostbusters,” it was still in the context of a “Ghostbusters 3” that would re-unite everyone except Bill Murray. It sounds like they’ve decided against that if Fleming is correct, which is a real shame from a creative standpoint. It makes sense for the studio, though, because if they can hire a young enough cast, they will be able to make a whole series of films. The same is true of “Men In Black.” Even on the first film, the back-end deals for Will Smith, Barry Sonnenfeld, and Steven Spielberg were so rich that the studio never really got the benefit of it being a giant hit. The’re rebooting specifically so they can keep making those movies without having to pay out almost 80% of any and all profit.

The idea of making a “Bad Boys” movie without Michael Bay attached, though, is insane. Does the studio not realize that there’s nothing special about that franchise at all beyond the involvement of Bay? I’m not even Bay’s biggest fan, but I will absolutely defend “Bad Boys II” as a near-perfect example of what it is that Bay seems to be chasing with each of his movies. It is racist, homophobic, deeply misanthropic, and filled with horrifying attempts at humor, and it is also ridiculously entertaining. When you strip Bay of any pretense at a moral compass, the results speak for themselves. Excess becomes the point. Offense becomes commonplace. And “Bad Boys II” might be one of the most reprehensibly enjoyable films ever made as a result.

Without Bay, you’ve got what? A buddy cop film? That’s it? Will Smith’s once-flawless reputation as a movie star has been tarnished over the last few years, and he’s nowhere near as bulletproof as he used to be. Martin Lawrence hasn’t been bankable in years. So why else make this if it’s not to stay in business with Michael Bay? I feel like this is a terrible idea if Sony moves ahead without the filmmaker. The article doesn’t say that Bay will never be involved… only that he’s not involved right now. Either way, this isn’t the first time they’ve geared up to try to make a new sequel to the series. For a little while, there was a rumor that they were heading to Argentina to shoot the new film, but that never seemed to happen. Did Bay get tired of waiting? Or does he just not feel like coming back? After all, “Transformers” is his franchise now, and he’s talked about how he has reinvented it now that Shia LeBeouf is gone. Does he really need “Bad Boys 3”?

Whatever the case, I hope these are just the building blocks De Luca uses as his foundation and he builds off of them by taking some creative risks. Yes, we have entered an age where the studios are more risk-averse than ever before, but more executives need to look at what Megan Ellison is doing. She’s working outside the system and beating them at their own game, backing strong film artists who have a great sense of voice, and she has created, in a very short time, one of the most daring and exciting filmographies around. The new Mike De Luca may not be the wild man he was when he was younger, but I hope he hasn’t been replaced completely. We need more of that sort of energy inside the studios, and he could be just the guy to shake things up if he’s able to follow the instincts that put him on the map in the first place.

Time will tell.