bad boys movie2

“Bad Boys, Bad Boys – whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”

Before April 7, 1995, the term and phrase “Bad Boys” was mostly associated with Jamaican reggae outfit Inner Circle’s song, a song first released in 1987 that gained a new following when it was adopted as the theme song for FOX’s then primetime reality series “COPS.” The late 80s to the early 90s are largely responsible for the birth of the “buddy cop” film – a motion picture genre whose protagonists were two police officers (usually men) who were all but polar opposites yet forced to pair together to take down some crime boss or super villain. By 1995, we’d seen plenty of variations of the buddy cop film (48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, and their ensuing sequels) but they all shared the common thread of white man paired with Black man.

It was time for that formula to change.

In 1995, Hollywood took a chance on pairing up two Black men in a buddy cop film. Two comedians, at that, who had acquired much success on the smaller screen through popular sitcoms and who were seeking to transition to the larger screen. Will Smith had already completed one such transition, going from rapper to beloved actor on the NBC series ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’ Martin Lawrence, too, had adapted his comedic timing and outspoken nature, getting his own self-titled comedy series on FOX. But Martin was mostly comic relief. He’d been such ever since first appearing in House Party five years ago and in Talking Dirty After Dark shortly thereafter. And the last time two Black comedians had co-starred in a film was Harlem Nights. But Bad Boys hit theaters that Friday in April in 1995 like an out of nowhere symphony of Michael Bay explosions and nothing was the same.

Will and Martin played off each other to perfection. Smith was Mike Lowrey, the smooth ladies’ man and somewhat playboy who dressed up for the club to go to crime scenes. Lawrence was his partner, wisecracking family man Marcus Burnett. The two of them were great in action scenes and car chases, but better still when left to their own devices and playing up their goofiness. The typical “good cop, bad cop” scene that we’d watched play out in plenty of movies and legal dramas became laugh out loud funny. When Mike threatened a mechanic who wouldn’t give up information, Marcus (after being “scared away” by Mike) hilariously wails from a corner room for the mechanic to confess. And there’s the scene when Marcus overhears Mike and his wife Theresa (played the perpetual supportive spouse in movies Theresa Randle) on phone, and what results is Will and Martin having the equivalence of a backyard wrestling match for all of three minutes.

The plot itself worked, too. Russian mobsters orchestrate a drug heist from one of Miami’s PD vaults. But they put the police on their trail mess around and draw Miami’s PD attention after killing off one woman (who just so happens to be one of Mike’s ex-girlfriends) and letting her friend Julie (played by Tea Leoni as a brunette) escape. The Federal System can’t be trusted, since Internal Affairs is convinced their narcotics division has someone on the inside that might reveal their plans. So instead, Mike and Marcus play impromptu witness protection while they continue to track down the Russian mobsters, but they switch lives and each man plays as though he’s the other one.

So Mike moves into Marcus’s family digs, and Marcus sets up shop in Mike’s bachelor penthouse suite to watch Julie and her eager-bladdered dog. But then Mike and Marcus have their identities found out, Julie is kidnapped by the mobsters once again, and it all sets up for an epic showdown at an airport.

The execution was slick and superb. It bore cheesy yet irresistible one-liners (in one late scene, Marcus yells out “you forgot your boarding pass!” to the mobsters while they’re getting in an airplane and fires a few shots that cause the plane to explode. In another, Mike hits a basketball shot in the Miami PD gym after both the Captain and Marcus struggle to make baskets, proclaiming as he walks out “Everybody wants to be like Mike”). Michael Bay hadn’t yet developed a reputation for blowing up everything in his movies, so seeing an abandoned airport hangar go up in flames was actually exciting. A hotel being shot up, Mike chasing after a getaway car with his button-down shirt wide open, and a high-speed chase on a freeway bridge made for great and memorable cinematic moments.

Joe Pantoliano, previously known for playing mob roles, was the head of narcotics Captain Howard, a loud short little man who always seemed to be one temper away from having a heart attack. Tcheky Karyo would begin his reign as the “foreigner villain” in action movies after Bad Boys, all but becoming typecast and playing the same role in numerous movies for nearly two decades after. Naomi Campbell and her gorgeous legs and abs would make a cameo as Max, Mike’s female friend who meets an untimely demise. And, yes, Inner Circle’s song made a cameo, too, as Mike and Marcus sang it in the car on the way to a crime scene.

Bad Boys would prove to be a success for all parties involved. Off a $19 million filming budget, it would gross over $140 million at the box office. It sparked the beginning of Will Smith’s reputation for being “Mr. Summer Blockbuster” and one of the most bankable men – one of the most bankable Black men, at that – in Hollywood. He’d star in back-to-back-to-back summer movies following Bad Boys (Independence Day in ’96, Men in Black in ’97, Wild Wild West in ’98), and though the latter was commercially successful but critically terrible, Will became “that guy” next to Denzel guaranteed to draw. Martin Lawrence would all but abandon his stand-up comedy roots completely for the next decade and a half and focus mostly on big-screen comedies, especially after his tenure on FOX was finished. He would go on to play cops in a majority of the films that would follow, including in his own franchise (the Big Momma’s House series). Michael Bay became a go-to director alongside Jerry Bruckheimer’s production for summer action movies.

The cool factor of the original made a sequel inevitable, though Bad Boys II would take over a decade to arrive itself. Hip-hop capitalized on the cool factor, to where Sean “Diddy” Combs curated Bad Boys II’s soundtrack under his Bad Boy Records label brand. Nelly’s “Shake Ya Tailfeather” alone was more memorable than anything on the first Bad Boys’ original motion picture score. And Will and Martin reuniting onscreen was instant money – they were older and showing their age but just as hilarious as ever. Talks rose of a potential third Bad Boys movie but nothing’s materialized just yet, and the time is all but running out to do so (unless Will and Martin decide they want to do like Sylvester Stallone did with The Expendables and attempt to be action stars at nearly sixty).

But nothing created now is going to touch the original. And really – would you want anything to? As a matter of fact, here’s something to ponder on: Producer Jerry Bruckheimer initially envisioned the lead roles of Mike and Marcus going to Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey. And where are THEY now? Exactly.