I recently rewatched Bad Boys for the first time in more than two decades. And with the perspective of (1) being 20+ years older and (2) having seen an infinite number of movies since then, the film plays totally differently.
But mostly, it took me to the central thesis of this blog post, in so far as list-based blog posts can have central theses: The plot of Bad Boys should’ve been the plot of a sequel.
Here’s my breakdown. Warning: There are some spoilers for Bad Boys (a 23-year-old movie) and Bad Boys 2 (a 15-year-old movie) below. I think we’re past the statute of limitations for giving spoilers on both. But even if you haven’t seen them, they’re both by-the-numbers enough that spoilers aren’t going to affect your movie-watching experience one way or another.
1 | A refresher on the plot of Bad Boys
Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are partners in Miami’s narcotics division who recently seized $100 million worth of heroin from the mob. That heroin is subsequently stolen from the police department’s evidence vault, and the guys go on a mission to find it.
In the process, they find themselves protecting a key witness (played by Tea Leoni, oddly cast as, more or less, a sex-kitten-in-distress). For the flimsiest of reasons, family man Martin Lawrence has to pretend to be swingin’ bachelor Will Smith and protect Tea Leoni at Smith’s bachelor pad. Meanwhile Smith stays at Lawrence’s house to protect Lawrence’s family.
That whole gambit eventually backfires as Lawrence’s wife finds out and is pissed. Meanwhile, Internal Affairs, played by a pre-CSI Marg Helgenberger rocking a spectacular ’90s lady mullet, shuts down the investigation
So the guys go rogue (I mean, they are bad boys after all), get into a massive shootout, kill all the bad guys and save the day.
Also, Joe Pantoliano plays their captain and, based on every single other role he’s had in his career, you keep waiting for the moment when he’s going to turn out to secretly be in cahoots with the bad guys. But it never comes. So, in a way, the movie’s biggest twist is that it doesn’t have a Joe Pantoliano heel turn twist.
2 | Action and comedy that don’t mix
Bad Boys struggles quite a bit with being an action comedy. Unlike, say, the Beverly Hills Cop franchise that predated it or so many movies that have followed, it seems like Bad Boys is either doing action or comedy and is incapable of doing both at the same time.
Unfortunately, the “action” side of the plot is so cookie cutter that it’s almost offensive to cookies to use that idiom. It’s a textbook “cops versus drug gang” plot, one that even includes the internal affairs cliche. There’s a quick twist about a mole in the department — yet another cliche — but that mole twist is so insignificant I forgot to mention it when I was doing the plot summary earlier.
I’d guess the thought process went: Since the “action” is so generic, we need to differentiate ourselves with the “comedy” side. Thus the identity switching witness protection story that accounts for at least half of the movie.
3 | The “no straight man” buddy dynamic
The movie gets into the identity switching story very quickly — really, before we have any true understanding of the characters. Sure, they’ve scratched the surface of establishing that Martin Lawrence is a family man and Will Smith is a trust funded womanizer.
But no one’s really seeing the two as vivid characters the movie gets into act two. All we’re seeing is Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, not their characters. There’s a reason why I’ve been instinctively referring to the actors’ names and not the characters’ names thus far in this post.
Also, it was an interesting (and, really, not brilliant) casting move to make Martin Lawrence the straight-edged family man and Will Smith the loose cannon single guy. Buddy comedies almost exclusively work with a straight man and a wild card funny guy. (A formula Rush Hour would nail just three years later.)
I’m sure it was a tough call. Will Smith is by far more believable than Martin Lawrence as a ladies’ man, or some sort of women’s dude. He would also be more believable as a family man. But Lawrence is infinitely more believable as a loose cannon. What with his loose cannon nature and all. He’s definitely not a straight man in any comedy duo — and he doesn’t really play one here.
(Side note: If I said that line during the movie Bad Boys, both leads would’ve instantly launched into monologues about how they’re straight and not gay. An undercurrent of cringeworthy, ’90s-style “gay panic for comedy” runs through the whole movie.)
So what Bad Boys gives us is square peg/round hole casting featuring two funny guys and no straight man.
4 | The identity switch is, therefore, unnecessary
So here’s why the plot of Bad Boys should’ve been the plot of Bad Boys 2. We didn’t *need* an hour of Bad Boys devoted to the characters switching identities, because we weren’t at all cognizant of their differences. We saw two actors, both kind of playing against type, both cracking one liners. It’s like Lisa Simpson at the copy shop ordering 25 copies on goldenrod, 25 on canary, 25 on saffron, and 25 on paella — and the employee responds, “Ok, 100 yellow.” The differences between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence more or less feel like goldenrod versus canary.
But that could’ve been fine, especially in 1995. Beef up the plot a little more, figure out a way to integrate the comedy into the action scenes, and just let the two leads crack jokes and shoot guns for two hours.
Then, when it was time for Bad Boys 2 and there was an entire movie of back story to build off, introduce the identity switching layer to let us dig deeper into the characters and help them grow.
5 | The case of the missing character arcs
Because, as it stands, the characters didn’t grow. They didn’t have any real place to grow from or to.
The reason any other movie in the history of movies would do an identity-switching plot is so the straight-laced family man would realize he needs to relax and become less rigid to most effectively do his police work and live his life… and so the devil-may-care womanizer would realize settling down and getting into a stable relationship and life situation isn’t so bad after all.
But in Bad Boys, neither character learns a lesson from the identity switching. They’re the exact same at the end of the movie as they were at the beginning. And it’s because the identity switching plot wasn’t necessary for the fabric of the movie — it was either to add more comedy or, more cynically, to stretch this damn thing to two hours.
6 | What Bad Boys needed to do
But it would’ve worked in an sequel. In a better Bad Boys, the movie could’ve let the two actors run wild and gotten all the shtick out of its system, leaving room for a sequel where the characters could grow.
Especially since, in the actual Bad Boys 2, the characters do try to grow. Sort of.
Which brings me to the next point…
7 | Bad Boys 2 should’ve been Bad Boys 3
Because Bad Boys unnecessarily accelerated the franchise by one film, Bad Boys 2 has all the hallmarks of a “well, we’ve got nothing left, let’s squeeze out anything else we can and kill this franchise” movie. As seen in modern times in Pitch Perfect 3.
8 | A refresher on the plot of Bad Boys 2
Bad Boys 2 introduces Gabrielle Union as Martin Lawrence’s sister and Will Smith’s love interest. It sure would’ve made more sense for him to have a love interest if his character had evolved like I laid out above in the first movie.
Bad Boys 2 is two-and-a-half hours long, mostly made up from action sequences that last *forever*. There’s one early car chase that might last 45 minutes. The movie does a little better with the balance of comedy and action, although it has a painful “comedy” scene of Lawrence and Smith interrogating (and threatening with a gun) a boy who’s taking Lawrence’s daughter on a date. That scene also includes Will Smith dropping like 15 jarring n-bombs, which felt so out of place (for him as an actor, for him as a person, and in this movie) I had no idea how to process what was happening.
9 | Bad Boys 2 and character arcs
But Bad Boys 2 actually *does* explore the dynamic between the partners and how their differences (albeit their very limited differences because, again, they’re mostly the same character) have created their uniquely effective partnership and friendship.
That’s what should’ve happened in Bad Boys, but it didn’t, because the franchise’s overall story wasn’t ready for those realizations or conclusions yet.
10 | Will there be a Bad Boys 3?
There’s been talk of a third Bad Boys movie for more than a decade now. That’s not surprising; any movie from the ’90s with a pulse has been reanimated in the modern era.
There are some factors that have kept Bad Boys 3 from happening. One, Martin Lawrence seems to be pretty toxic at this point; he’s only been in two movies thus far this entire decade. Will Smith is in a weird career phase where he’s still coasting on his history but hasn’t led a real hit since… I don’t know. Does Men in Black 3 count? Does Suicide Squad? And in spite of all that, they’d both demand gargantuan salaries.
Two, in the modern movie climate — with fewer movies, all of which have to be the epicest blockbuster that ever epiced and also appeal to Chinese audiences — another Bad Boys would need to go even bigger. And they really threw everything they had out there during Bad Boys 2.
11 | In conclusion…
And that, I think, is what’s kept there from being a Bad Boys 3. The franchise already had it. It was called Bad Boys 2. And that happened because the original Bad Boys felt like a sequel — unfortunately, it was a sequel to a movie that didn’t exist.