Genre: Action Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 27 min.
Release Date: July 18th, 2003 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Michael Bay Actors: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jordi Molla, Gabrielle Union, Peter Stormare, Theresa Randle, Joe Pantoliano, Michael Shannon, Yul Vazquez, Jason Manuel Olazabal, Henry Rollins
t an ecstasy lab in Amsterdam, $150 million worth of pills are carefully housed in metal coffins for transport to the Gulf of Mexico, where they’re dumped into the water for pickup not too far from Miami, Florida. An elite squadron from the Tactical Narcotics Team catches wind of the drop by the Coast Guard, setting into motion an operation that quickly spirals out of control. Local undercover detectives Mike Eugene Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are in the midst of a KKK rally at a dock, using the cross-burning event to gather intel on the drugs. In the ensuing skirmish, Marcus takes a bullet in the rear, and most of the Klan members end up dead, but the ecstasy never shows; the excessive police resources were clearly wasted.
Although there’s plenty of action, slow-motion lunging and shooting and rolling and diving, overzealous camerawork (director Michael Bay’s trademark), and frenzied conversations, the lead duo’s constant comedy relief creates an unmistakable insincerity that rarely works with the violent interactions. In this opening sequence, the use of white-hooded racists (one of whom is a young Michael Shannon) is particularly curious, since it adds extra severity in the characters – but not in the response. Lowrey and Burnett are just as goofy, glib, and nonchalant in the face of any type of danger.
After the ecstasy bust proves fruitless, Mike depends on informant Icepick (Treva Ellsworth) to locate the next shipment. Little does Mike know, his girlfriend Syd (Gabrielle Union) – who happens to be Marcus’ sister – is an undercover officer as well, and is currently working the same group of dealers, roleplaying as a money launderer. This, too, causes problems, not only because Mike doesn’t want Marcus to know about his relationship with Syd, but also because the gangsters, led by Russian goon Alexei (Peter Stormare) – who distributes for supplier Hector Juan Carlos Tapia (Jordi Molla) – aren’t predictable when it comes to who they’re willing to spontaneously murder.
“Shoot back! Shoot back! Shoot! Shoot!” The story isn’t great, but it creates plenty of excuses for high-stakes adventure. The action sequences occur quite frequently and possess an undeniable flamboyance as the heroes decimate considerable chunks of the city; the destruction is unbelievable. An early highway chase scene wrecks dozens of cars (and a boat), unleashing ludicrous amounts of collateral damage and bullets (the guns are the kind that never seem to run out of ammunition). Even though these moments are moderately exciting, employing some exceptional stunts, the unending levity tends to diminish the sense of immediacy.
Further hindering the realism is Miami Police Department Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who cartoonishly reprimands his men before rashly granting Mike and Marcus carte blanche to blow up the whole city if necessary to stop the flow of drugs. And his nonsensical bickering, which is supposed to be funny, never lets up. In contrast is Molla’s ringleader, who goes way over the top in an attempt to be intimidating. It doesn’t really matter, however; this isn’t a police procedural with meticulous sleuths combating criminal masterminds. Instead, it’s a rambunctious actioner wherein the detective work is done by blasting holes through things and creating as much carnage as possible – random civilians and infrastructure be damned. Alternatively, harrowing scenarios can be defused with a round of jokes. “Do some cop work!”
Still, there is some fun to be had in the outrageous mayhem, particularly with yet more chase sequences (repetitious as they may be) – one in which cadavers spill out of a van onto the road, only to get mutilated to greater degrees, and another (a real showstopper) that involves a HUMMER H2 demolishing an entire village. Unfortunately, despite the decent bits of action, the running time is exhausting, while Bay’s persistence with encircling camera movements and slow-motion in the wrong spots frazzles the senses. At least there’s an escalation in the set pieces, with the climax being arguably the most annihilative.
– Mike Massie