Movies

‘Bad Boys’ Retrospective: A Bad Lethal Weapon Ripoff We’ve Been Stuck With For 25 Years

With Bad Boys For Life opening this week, I suddenly realized that despite being hyper-aware of the Bad Boys franchise as part of the late 90s cultural landscape — riffed on, parodied, and referenced — I’d never actually watched the original movie, at least not from start to finish like one does a regular film. Making fun of Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer over the years, I’d often heard “yeah but I liked Bad Boys.” What better time to finally revisit?

Bad Boys was released in 1995, which means that we’ve had this franchise for 25 years. Fittingly, it was one of the last movies Don Simpson produced before his heart exploded while he was on the toilet, the result of years of cocaine abuse. I always wondered if Simpson was the brains (or maybe just an irreplaceable element) of the Simpson/Bruckheimer team, considering the relative quality of the movies Bruckheimer produced before Simpson’s death (Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Days Of Thunder, Crimson Tide, The Rock…) vs. the ones Bruckheimer produced after (Coyote Ugly, Remember the Titans, Pearl Harbor, Bad Company, Kangaroo Jack…). At the very least, watching Bad Boys has made re-examine this notion.

Bad Boys was Michael Bay’s first feature. He was hand-picked by Simpson/Bruckheimer after his wildly successful Aaron Burr/Got Milk commercial. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that there is no one who was alive in 1993 who doesn’t remember the “Aawon Burr” ad. (27 years later, hardly a day goes by when I don’t see a shitty play on the “Got Milk” format.) As a featured director, Bay was an instant success, thanks to Bad Boys, which clearly established an unmistakable signature style evident in every Michael Bay movie ever since (Bad Boys For Life, sadly, was not directed by Bay). One scene even begins with a tracking shot under the pubic mounds of nightclub dancers:

Classic Bay. This was basically his audition for his future Victoria Secret ads.

I’ve written this before, but every character in a Michael Bay movie is either a slut or a clown. In Bad Boys this is manifest even in the two leads. The very first scene sees Will Smith’s Mike Lowrey (slut) chastising Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett (clown) because Lawrence is eating a messy burger and fries in Lowry’s new Porsche while complaining about how his wife never has sex with him. Thus establishing the root character dichotomy: Will Smith as the rich, single, Porsche-driving playboy with women all over the city (and the scion of family wealth); Martin Lawrence as the dry dick, working-class, jalopy-humping family man reduced to begging his wife for intimacy. Contrasts are stark in Michael Bay movies. Slut. Clown.

Later in the film, Lawrence’s character ends up having to pose as Smith’s (supposedly to keep from spooking a flighty witness played by Téa Leoni), leading to a series of Three’s Company-esque misunderstandings. That it’s trying to sell us Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as an odd couple is probably the weirdest part of Bad Boys. Beautiful women throw themselves at Will Smith over and over while Martin Lawrence fumbles and sputters like Jerry Lewis. You can’t leave your pretty wife with MIKE LOWREY, he’s a smooth hunk of pure animal magnetism! It’s weird because Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are… both manic comedic actors with big ears. Yet the script treats them like they’re Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito in Twins.

Sorry, it’s hard not to digress when you discuss Michael Bay, whose collection of tics are almost as obvious and eccentric as Donald Trump’s — the man loves ogling women and laughing at funny foreigners, what can you say. One of my favorite lines in Bad Boys is in the beginning, when a bad guy is prodding his sexy decoy, “Come on now, strutty strutty titty titty.”

“Strutty strutty titty titty” is Michael Bay’s raison d’être. I digress again, but by far the most salient feature of Bad Boys is what an obvious ripoff it is of Lethal Weapon 2 — released six years earlier and produced by Simpson/Bruckheimer rival, Joel Silver (Commando, Predator, Die Hard, Road House, Demolition Man…). Bad Boys is basically like someone said, “What if Lethal Weapon 2, but also Miami Vice and an episode of Martin?

It’s not a beat-for-beat remake, but it’s pretty close. For instance, both movies include:

People Jumping Off Tall Buildings Into Pools

Warner Bros

Lethal Weapon 2

Bad Boys

(Pool jump at around the 3-minute mark)

Exploding Fish Tanks

Lethal Weapon 2

Bad Boys

That in Lethal Weapon 2, the fish tank was the exclamation point of a compelling scene that gradually built up to it, and in Bad Boys‘ it was just another thing that broke in the background of a fight says a lot about the two movies.

Scores Full Of Sexy Sax And Noodlin’ Guitars

I can just use the same clips for this one. Listen specifically to the guitar noodles at the beginning and end of the first clip:

Lethal Weapon 2

Bad Boys

(Again, the 3-minute mark)

A Slender, Blue-Eyed Damsel With Pouty Lips And Very High Cheek Bones

Lethal Weapon 2

Warner Bros

Bad Boys

Columbia

The Obnoxious “Cop Groupie” Character

Lethal Weapon 2

Bad Boys

There’s a lot more of Chet in the actual movie, but this was the only clip of him online.

The Sexy Internal Affairs Lady

Lethal Weapon 3

Bad Boys

Diplomatic Immunity or, Shooting The Lead Bad Guy In The Escape Venue Right After Saying A Cool Catch Phrase While Their Blood Money Floats Around Them Like So Much Confetti

Lethal Weapon 2

Bad Boys

Yes, they both had foreign bad guys — the apartheid-loving South African in Lethal Weapon 2; a non-descript Frenchman named “Fouchet” in Bad Boys (I believe fouchet is French for the sound a fart makes). I think we can agree that, objectively, “it’s just been revoked” makes a lot more sense than “you forgot your boarding pass,” which isn’t even a callback to anything.

Lethal Weapon 2 was a great schlock movie. Bad Boys is this sort of thin facsimile of a schlock movie where the actors get the broad outline of their character types and improvise some jokes at the script’s expense. At its most basic level, Bad Boys is a ripoff of Lethal Weapon 2 named after the theme song of Cops — which Will Smith and Martin Lawrence sing during the movie.

Yet it ended up being almost as successful as its doppelganger — $141 million worldwide on a $19 million budget for Bad Boys, vs. $227 million worldwide on a $50 million budget for Lethal Weapon 2. It is exactly as dumb as it seems. It established the formula that all future Michael Bay films would follow, and we’ve been stuck with it ever since.

‘Bad Boys For Life’ opens this weekend in theaters. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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