Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bland Boys

A while back, I happened upon a card in my mailbox that allowed me one free month of Netflix. I finally got around to starting it up, and I have to say, it's been a great way to get caught up on a bunch of movies and TV shows I've been wanting to see. Apart from watching every episode of Dollhouse, a few snippets of the X-Men cartoon, and the entire first three seasons of Breaking Bad, I also got around to watching 31 movies I hadn't seen before. Let me tell you, it was immensely refreshing to be able to watch a free movie online that didn't have obnoxious Korean subtitles taking up two-thirds of the screen.

Anyway, two of those Netflix movies are what I'd like to talk about today: a pair of action-driven, Michael Bay-helmed epics called Bad Boys and Bad Boys II.

What piqued my interest about these particular movies was the fact that everyone seemed to really like them, especially the second one. I remember the first one coming out and just being a quiet hit, but once the sequel released...everyone everywhere was talking about Bad Boys II. Friends, neighbours, fellow movie buffs, & casual movie fans alike all said it was a total must-see movie. I'd never seen either of the Bad Boys, but I love Will Smith (who doesn't?!) and I can tolerate Michael Bay films (mostly). I thought Armageddon was decent and I enjoyed the Transformers series. So I thought, hey, let's give Bad Boys a shot. From what I gathered through popular opinion, this franchise took a page from Chris Nolan's Bat-book, i.e., the first movie was a big success, but the twice-as-long, twice-as-hyped, twice-as-big, twice-as-expensive sequel was the true star of the series.

Fair enough, I thought. I'm all yours, Mr. Bay. Let's see what you've got.

Upon finally viewing these two movies, my verdict is...confused. Maybe I'm dyslexic and I've been horribly mixing up all of the hype surrounding this series, but Bad Boys II was way, way, WAAAAYYYYY worse than its predecessor.

The first Bad Boys had a really clever and cute little plot twist whereupon Martin Lawrence's character Marcus (a jittery, straight-edged family man) has to pretend to be Will Smith's character Mike (a smooth-talking, oversexed playboy) in order to secure a witness in a very important police case involving stolen heroin. That was neat, and totally not something I expected to see in a Michael Bay movie. It was fun to watch these characters struggle uncomfortably out of their element. It reminded me of the classic mistaken identity farces of Hollywood's Golden Age, and it really helped put an emphasis on the second half of that "action-comedy" nametag this series likes to wear proudly on its lapels.

Bad Boys II, on the other hand...well, I can actually review that movie without using a single word, simply by rolling my eyes and scoffing. But since you can't exactly see me doing that, here are some words.

Everything that made the first movie cool and funky and different and fun is gone. Bye-bye. Instead, prepare yourself for two hours and twenty-four minutes of non-stop, groan-inducing action movie cliches that are so in-your-face that I kept thinking I was watching a Wayans Brothers parody of a cop movie instead of the genuine article. It left we wondering if Bay and his writers had ever even seen The Last Action Hero. Literally every cop movie stereotype that The Last Action Hero makes fun of is in Bad Boys II, and they're not even being used ironically. Hero cop gets shot, but it's just "a flesh wound"? Check. High-speed car chase filled with explosions where a lot of innocent people get hurt but the cops don't seem too bothered by it? Check. Cops using flashy sports cars instead of standard-issue police cruisers? Triple check. Mismatched partners getting in silly arguments? Check. A police station that looks nicer than the main lobby of a Ritz-Carlton hotel? Check. A chief who spends every second of his screen time yelling at the two lead cops about how the Mayor is up his ass? Check. A lame, stock villain whose only character traits are "evil" and "drug lord"? Check. Slow-motion hero shots of the main characters firing their guns in a way that isn't practical at all, but it's okay because it makes them look "badass"? Check check check check che...well, you get the idea.

Are those cliches bad? Absolutely not. They're fun and exciting and moderation. But considering that the first Bad Boys broke the mould a little bit and gave us something with a neat little spark of originality, you can understand how disappointed I was that the sequel decided to just take a shit all over that and play their safe cards from The Overused Buddy-Cop Stereotype Handbook for Dummies. What's especially puzzling is how everybody said they loved it so much more than Part 1.

Remember how I said that almost everyone loves Will Smith? Well, this movie doesn't just love him...this movie takes every single opportunity to get down on its knees, grab Will Smith by the balls, suck him off until he's satisfied, and then says, "Thank you, Will Smith, may I have another?" It was almost embarrassing to watch. I wouldn't be surprised if Bad Boys II's official movie poster was just Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam with the Fresh Prince's face superimposed over God's.

What, then, should Bad Boys II have been? Well, if you ask me, I think it was the perfect opportunity for a classic role-reversal. Take another popular movie series for example: in Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear had to deal with the fact that he was a toy. Woody kept trying to explain to him exactly what that meant, and was constantly reminding Buzz of his responsibility to Andy. In Toy Story 2, Woody was the one dealing with an identity crisis, and it was up to Buzz to bring him back. Buzz even went so far as to echo Woody's famous line from the first flick: "You are a child's plaything! You. Are. A. TOY!" If the first Bad Boys was about Martin Lawrence struggling to pretend that he was a man-whore bachelor, then Bad Boys II absolutely could have worked if it was about Will Smith struggling to pretend (for similar reasons, perhaps) that he was a happily-married suburbanite with three kids. And if they really wanted to stick to the Toy Story formula, then Bad Boys III could be about them being transferred to a different precinct, and then somehow they end up in a giant furnace room holding hands and accepting their inevitable fate, only to be pulled out of harm's way at the last second by Joe Pantoliano.

At the end of the day, what I'm most curious about is: why? Why was Bad Boys II so universally acclaimed while its superior predecessor goes largely unmentioned? Why does this mediocre sequel overshadow the better work that came before? Jaws 2 didn't overshadow Jaws. Terminator 3 didn't overshadow T2. The Return of Jafar didn't overshadow Aladdin (thank fucking Lord). Is Bad Boys II a "bad" movie? On its own, not at all. As part of the series that the first one started, though...yeah, a little bit.. What do YOU think of Bad Boys II? Perhaps this is one of life's mysteries that simply wasn't meant to be solved. Or maybe we're just better off not knowing, because the answer might turn out to be "People prefer dumb stuff". And that would just be sad.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dimension Dimension Dimension

So the other day, Underworld: Awakening came out and a friend and I made plans to go and see it (I'll wait 'till the laughter stops on that one before I continue). Much to our chagrin, though, the movie was only playing in 3-D, which neither of us wanted, so we had to end up settling on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Despite the comically enormous size of Gary Oldman's glasses, that movie was about as entertaining as watching people do paperwork for two hours. Honestly, for a movie about spies and secret double-agents and British espionage, it wasn't very intriguing. Just a word of friendly advice to the writers: when it comes to mysteries, having CLUES that the audience can identify is exponentially more interesting than just having Gary Oldman solve the whole thing himself by reading files.

But to get back to the point here, I want to talk about 3-D. Everyone who knows me already knows how I feel about it, but I think I should just lay all my cards on the table now. You see, Hollywood is a dear friend of mine. I've known him since I was a baby. I don't just care about Hollywood; I love the heck out of him. But I can't sit idly by and watch him kill himself any longer. So, Hollywood, old friend, consider this blog entry your intervention.

As always, Hollywood, the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

Hollywood, I want you to think back to the good old days, and by that I mean any day prior to 2009. Do you remember all of the fun we used to have together, you & me? We used to do everything: we'd play baseball with Tom Hanks, we'd take a 12-hour trip to Middle Earth, we'd run from killer cyborgs and go sneaking through the Temple of Doom. We blew up the Death Star, and then we blew up the second Death Star, and then we drove Miss Daisy around for a bit. We had a lot of great times together.

But then you changed.

I don't know what it was. Maybe you felt pressured. Maybe you spent too much time hanging around that psycho James Cameron. But whatever the catalyst was, the results were undeniable: you started using 3-D. At first it was just enough to make us concerned, but, Hollywood, we're scared for you.

A couple of years back. I wanted to watch the last Saw movie with you, remember? were on 3-D. And just this past Christmas, when the Tintin movie came out, I was overjoyed! I used to love the Tintin cartoon when I was a kid! I couldn't wait to see it on the big screen with you! were on 3-D.

I understand that addictions are hard to kick, Hollywood. But the fact of the matter is, you need to quit. Maybe some unpleasant people want to be around you when you're on 3-D, but those people aren't your real friends. You may think you're more "fun" and "hip" when you're "using", but I'm afraid it's the exact opposite. I don't like wearing clunky glasses over my normal glasses. I don't like paying five extra dollars for a migraine. I don't like things popping out at me, Hollywood, because...that's not what our friendship is all about.

Let's say you have a baby, Hollywood. And you decide that you want to entertain that baby. You have a set of plastic Fisher Price keys that jingle and jangle in a very pleasant way. Now, you have two options here. Option 1: you can set the Fisher Price keys down in front of the baby and let her pick them up, let her rattle them around in her hand, let her inspect them and discover them and examine them with the sense of newfound wonder that babies have with everything they touch. Let her make connections and feel the keys beneath her fingers. Option 2: you can wave the keys back & forth obnoxiously in front of her face, saying, "OOoOoooOohhh, look at the keys! Look at the keys! Look at the keys! OOooOoOooOoOooO! Look at the keys! Look at the keys!" There's being entertaining, and then there's being patronizing.

Hollywood, remember back in the seventies when we went swimming together at that beach off of Amity Island, and then that crazed killer shark started attacking people? That was amazing! Everybody had so much fun that day! And remember how we went back to that same beach after a few years, and even though nothing new or original happened, we still had a ton of fun swimming around and running from that shark again? Good times were had by all! But when we went back a third were on 3-D. And nobody had fun. Absolutely nobody. We all hated that day, Hollywood. You ruined it by being high on your stupid addiction. We just didn't tell you to your face because, well, frankly, we loved you too much to hurt your feelings like that. But we're afraid that if everything doesn't come out in the open now, it could do some serious damage. In hindsight, it's just as much our fault for not bringing it up sooner.

Trust us, this isn't the first time something tragic like this has ruined peoples' lives. Remember our old friend Amusement Park Rides? Even he struggled with a bad 3-D addiction. He was so stoned out of his mind on the shiny 3-D keys jingling in front of his nose that he didn't realize that good old-fashioned roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls produced a natural, healthy high that was ten times more exhilarating than anything you could buy off the streets. Slowly but surely, though, Amusement Park Rides is learning to kick his addiction. He knows that he doesn't have to rely on a synthetic substance to have a good time.

Our actions have consequences, Hollywood. You need to understand that, as cool or hip as you may think you are, your behaviour is having an extremely bad influence on your little cousin, Television. We walked into a Best Buy just the other day and...well, I know this is going to be hard to hear, but...we caught Television using 3-D, too. When we took the 3-D away and asked him why he was doing it, Television started crying and yelled, "It's because of Hollywood, okay?! I learned it from watching Hollywood!!!" I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

Frankly, we don't want to hang out with you anymore, Hollywood, because, in all honesty, what's the point? Why should we go out of our way to see you when you're so stoned off your mind that you treat us like toddlers? Why should we keep lending you money if you're just going to spend it on more 3-D? And don't try to lie to us, because we know that that's exactly where our money is going, isn't it?

Dear, sweet Hollywood: you have a serious, serious problem. But we're not here to attack you. We're here to help you. Next month, when Ghost Rider 2 comes out, I want to be able to enjoy it with you like we used to, without your addiction ruining the experience. You CAN have fun without resorting to 3-D, Hollywood: we used to do it all the time, remember? We can do it again. But this is a two-way street. Kicking this addiction is not going to be easy, but we'll be there for you every step of the way, as long as we know that you are actively trying to get better. We care about you, Hollywood. So please, PLEASE...start caring about yourself.

A NOTE TO THE READERS: If you or anyone you know is struggling with a harmful addiction to 3-D, there are ways to get better. You can visit the 3-D Addicts Anonymous website at, or call their hotline at 1-800-321-HELP.