Grade: D-

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.