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BAD BOYS II

One can understand why the exorbitant price tags charged by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence for this followup to their 1995 buddy action-comedy might have encouraged producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay to squeeze as much screen time out of them as possible. But that’s no excuse for stretching the sequel to epic length. At an unconscionable 147 minutes, “Bad Boys II”–which is nothing more than tired formula, pure and simple, feels longer than “Pearl Harbor.” And it’s got a lot more explosions and violence than that World War II picture, too.

One might have thought that after eight years, and with the odd couple pairing of Ron Shelton and Jerry Stahl doing the screenwriting honors, the makers could have come up with a bit of innovation on the narrative side. But that’s certainly not the case. “Bad Boys II” has the merest wisp of a plot–Miami cops Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Smith) are out to bring down a couple of importers of the club drug ecstasy, Russian mobster Alexei (Peter Stormare) and Cuban boss Tapia (Jordi Molla). The complication is that Marcus’ sister Sydney (Gabrielle Union) is a DEA agent who’s gone undercover in a separate federal effort to bust the bad guys. (Unbeknownst to her overprotective brother, she’s also romantically involved with Mike.) And to up the ante further, Marcus is thinking of transferring out of the squad and breaking up the partnership. The only other character of consequence is the obligatory police captain driven to frantic despair by the reckless escapades of his top team. That stock part is played in this instance by Joe Pantoliano, who rages so hysterically that you soon begin to worry about the actor’s cardiac health.

“Bad Boys II” quickly degenerates into a see-saw chain of action set pieces and comic sketches in which Lawrence and Smith engage in shrill, unfunny banter. The former include car chases, shootouts and assaults staged on a ludicrously massive scale, sending enormous quantities of cars to the junkyard and expending what must have been millions of rounds of phony ammunition (as well as giving employment to a small army of stuntmen). One soon tires of all the redundant mayhem, which is accompanied by sound effects recorded, like the bombastic score, at ear-splitting volume. One might hope for some relief during the comic interruptions between the stars (with an occasional assist from some unfortunate third party), but for the most part they prove equally loud and aggressive–not to mention unamusing. Lawrence does his usual shtick, which is coming to seem ever more desperate and demeaning; he mugs and screams as frantically as the most cruelly stereotyped African-Americans were in the films of decades ago. Smith, on the other hand, isn’t asked to do much more than strut about and wear an attractive wardrobe; he’s an amiable guy, but this is less a performance than an exercise in vanity. Union looks as fetching as usual, but in the final analysis she’s nothing more than the required damsel in distress. Some redneck humor is supposed to be provided by Michael Shannon as a KKK hayseed who becomes an unwilling informant, but he’s more boring than funny.

In fact, the only item of interest in “Bad Boys II” is its villains. Stormare, and especially Molla, play their parts with such delicious flamboyance that they easily outshine the stars. Stormare, who heretofore has been little better than reliably dull, makes Alexei, quite literally, lip-smackingly lascivious. Molla is even better, turning Tapia into a wickedly hilarious parody of Al Pacino’s “Scarface.” It’s a pity that Alexei bites the dust so early; his scenes with Tapia make those between Burnett and Lowrey positively pale. (A movie about these two crime lords might really have been a hoot.) It’s also a sign of the times that a Cuban and a Russian are presented as such bitter capitalist foes; what could be more telling proof that old Cold War alliances really are dead?

But we digress. “Bad Boys II” is a typically oversized Bruckheimer-Bay action opus, ridiculously loud and crude, mindlessly violent and absurdly overlong. Even in its admittedly trashy genre, it hits a new nadir, taking us to yet a lower rung of buddy-action hell. The only hopeful thing about it is that if past history is any indication, we’ll have to wait until 2011 before another in the series will be upon us.

MAY

It isn’t often that the editing of a movie is one of the first elements to be singled out for criticism, but that’s the case with “May.” The culprits are Debra Goldfield and Rian Johnson, and thanks to their efforts the picture–a gruesome contemporary black comedy with a “Frankenstein” theme–has virtually no rhythm or pace. Even the montages come across as though they’d been assembled in a malfunctioning blender.

Still, one shouldn’t blame Goldfield and Johnson overmuch. Editors need something decent to work with, after all. And while it’s possible to discern what writer-director Lucky McGee was after–a bizarrely goofy fable of alienation and perverse wish-fulfillment–one must conclude that he’s utterly failed to achieve it. Tone-deaf and structurally flaccid, “May” is little more than a Troma movie with unrealized pretensions. The only laughs it elicits will be those of embarrassment, not enjoyment.

The title character, played by Angela Bettis (who was “Carrie” in the NBC remake of Stephen King’s novel), is a preternaturally shy young woman whose complete lack of the social graces is the result of an unhappy childhood, in which she was ostracized because of her “lazy eye.” Her only friend, it appears, is a hideous doll (looking rather like something out of “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) once given her by her oddball mother (Merle Kennedy). Now on her own, she’s a bundle of tics and repression working in a veterinary hospital; her burning desire is to connect with someone real for a change. As the narrative (loosely conceived) proceeds, she searches for affection from Adam (Jeremy Sisto), a hunky mechanic and would-be moviemaker; Polly (Anna Faris), her lesbian co-worker; and a group of disabled kids whom she volunteers to babysit. When each effort fails, she seizes on the advice her mother gave her long ago: “If you need a friend, make one.” She determines literally to construct a flesh-and-blood doll with bits and pieces collected from Adam, Polly, and a few other unfortunate victims. And in a final gesture, she even contributes something of her own.

Perhaps “May” could have worked if carried off with some panache, but McKee flubs every possibility. This sort of material requires very precise stylization–Michael Lehmann’s 1989 “Heathers” had it, for instance, and so did Bob Balaban’s severely underappreciated cannibal comedy “Parents” of the same year–but McKee’s approach could most charitably be described as approximate. His picture exhibits absolutely no visual flair, and it’s miserably constructed: more than an hour of lackadaisical set-up, followed by less than half that in supposedly humorous but merely grisly resolution, all topped off with a final punchline that’s not only ugly but poorly staged. Bettis’ unmodulated, picky performance is a problem, too. In her hands May is an obvious nutcase from the very first, and the sole change she undergoes–to a grim competence in murder and dissection toward the close–is completely implausible. The remainder of the acting ranges from the strenuously overstated (Faris, who’s arch and affected) to the simply dull (Sisto, who seems not to have been let in on the joke) and the abysmally amateurish (James Duval, as a slacker whose arms May comes to covet, and Nichole Hiltz as Polly’s glamorous new significant other, whose “gams” May admires).

When May finally produces her cadaverous new buddy, it’s an ugly, revolting assemblage of tacky parts–rather like the movie Lucky McKee has thrown together. In short, “May” not.