Bad Company Movie Review

For the second consecutive weekend, the movie industry's biggest release involves the CIA dealing with a rogue nuclear weapon that's landed in the U.S. via American-hating zealots. Is Hollywood tapping into our worst terrors or distancing us from them by placing them on that giant screen of fantasies? Last week it was political potboiler The Sum of All Fears; this week's entry is a comedy. A comedy about terrorism?! No wonder Touchstone twice delayed the release of Bad Company.

Even when subject matter strikes an uncomfortable nerve, folks are still going to show up for a movie that stars Anthony Hopkins as a cold, emotionless career CIA man and Chris Rock as an unsuspecting agent-in-training, so it's necessary to discuss whether or not the film works. Sometimes Bad Company does, but often, it does not.

The problems with Joel Schumacher's action/comedy/espionage/spy/bomb thriller are varied: The comedy isn't edgy enough and never grabs hold, the spy operation never gets detailed enough to be fresh or interesting, and too many plot hole problems need to be ignored in order to enjoy the movie.

That last point is a tough one, especially in a film about a nuclear weapon. How can we be extremely troubled by the possibility of a bomb entering New York City if we're also supposed to believe that the CIA's only hope is a helpless huckster who must learn how to save the world in nine days? This is the CIA's only option?

That option is Jake Hayes (Rock), a hustler who can zip through 20-dollar games of speed chess while selling scalped tickets to see the Knicks. Unbeknownst to Jake is that he has an identical twin brother, a brilliant CIA operative who's just been killed while undercover in the Czech Republic. A CIA team, led by Hopkins as the mysterious Gaylord Oakes, urges Hayes to leave his life behind and learn to become his brother. And convince terrorists of his new identity. And complete a deal for a nuclear weapon. And keep his cool. Uh huh.

Not only is Rock never convincing as his more refined twin brother, but his overall performance is sub-par. Hopkins, who can act exquisitely, is given a role that he can (and does) sleepwalk through; conversely, Rock is given a meaty part and doesn't have the skills to pull it off. Whenever he's asked to show extreme emotion -- like fear -- it gets glossed over by his trying too hard and simple lack of acting chops.

So Schumacher (reviled for Batman Forever; redeemed by Tigerland) and the screenwriters rely on Rock's strength, which is in getting the laugh. Some jokes are broad and goofy but many are sly and more conversational; those natural ones work better not only for Rock's brand of street-smart delivery, but also for the overall feel of the film.

Schumacher also provides some deft direction for an action scene or two -- a car chase through some grassy fields is a particular standout -- but Bad Company really comes down to the stereotypical standoff between overplayed baddies and one-dimensional good guys. And in a movie that could have taken advantage of Hopkins' skills, the inner workings of a CIA operation, and an exciting fish-out-of-water scenario, getting by on just the minimal stuff is pretty weak.

It must be noted that while an action-comedy about a potential terrorist attack can be touchy in these times, some may find one incident unusually harsh. While a bomb lurks in one of the busiest areas of New York City, an announcement to evacuate the building comes over the film's soundtrack, delivered with an audio effect that momentarily sounds like it's coming over the movie theater's PA (if there is such a thing). It's not terribly scary, but it's cheap, unnecessary, and out of line with today's atmosphere. Perhaps better judgment will be shown in the sequel, for which the script has easily left room.

You'll find few extras on the DVD save for a making-of documentary. Come on, folks -- any Chris Rock movie is begging for outtakes!

More thrilling than a game of chess!


Comments

Bad Company Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2002

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