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Two Much 

Sorry sequels sour summer cinema

The new action-comedy Bad Boys II (* out of four) is the sort of movie that would lead a reactionary critic to condemn it as a work that marks The End Of Western Civilization As We Know It. I won't go that far, but I will state that it's quite possible I have never before seen a motion picture that held so much contempt for everyone and everything -- for its audience, for its characters, even for the film medium itself. Beverly Hills Cop II, the Psycho remake and practically all teen slasher flicks are well-known for their obvious disdain, but even these pictures seem as wholesome and all-embracing as The Sound of Music when compared to this debacle of wretched excess.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has long been known for churning out terrible (albeit profitable) movies, so that whenever he's attached to a decent flick -- say, the original Beverly Hills Cop or the current Pirates of the Caribbean -- it's almost surprising that he doesn't fight to have his name removed from the finished product, lest he be accused of having a modicum of taste. More often, however, Bruckheimer churns out cinematic gruel on the order of Pearl Harbor, Armageddon and Gone In 60 Seconds -- empty, sensory-bombardment endurance tests that make many scribes wonder if they've already died and gone to hell.

Bad Boys II is that sort of movie -- and then some. A sequel to a 1995 film that was mediocre at best, this re-teams Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as Miami cops Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, who this time are hot on the trail of a Cuban thug (terrible Jordi Molla) who's angling to become the city's number one supplier of Ecstasy. To show impressionable young audience members that drugs are BAD, the scripters (including Hollywood Homicide perpetrator Ron Shelton) toss in a scene in which a young man ODs on the pills. That's all well and good, but later, we get an entirely comic scene in which Marcus accidentally swallows two tablets and proceeds to tweak his own nipples and prance around his superior's living room. Talk about sending a mixed message.

The first words uttered in the movie are "Stupid bitches" (the drug lord talking to his women), and the tone never gets any less mean-spirited after that. While scoping out a morgue, Mike and Marcus ogle and comment on the ample breasts on a beautiful young woman's corpse (after all, what's a mainstream summer movie without a hint of necrophilia?) and later refer to the deceased woman as a "bimbo." Why? Did being Hispanic and shapely automatically mean she was an airhead?

Later, Mike and Marcus terrorize a teenager who's come to take Marcus' daughter out on a date. He's clearly a polite, respectful kid, not some gangbanger, so how funny is it that Mike points his revolver in the boy's face and threatens him with anal intercourse? Actually, anal intercourse seems to be prominent on the minds of director Michael Bay and the writers: In another scene, our heroes don't know that their private conversation regarding Mike's accidental shooting of Marcus' buttocks is being broadcast on all the TV monitors at an electronics store; needless to say, their wording leads the aghast customers to think they're watching the confessions of a homosexual couple ("It hurt going in!"). And for added hilarity, don't miss the loving close-up of two rats (yes, rats) screwing in the missionary position. "They fuck just like us!" exclaims an excited Marcus. Pure comic genius!

There's more. One high-speed chase involves corpses being tossed all over a Miami highway, simply so cars can run over them and cause them to bust open like pinatas. Another chase finds the participants driving their huge-ass vehicles through many of the homes in an impoverished Cuban village, completely destroying them (we see one of these vehicles plowing through a clothesline that's strewn with children's garments -- how sweet). One minor character gets hacked to pieces in a kitchen, and his body parts are served to his partner in a box (picture a bucket of KFC filled with severed human limbs instead of chicken). And another character gets shot right between the eyes (in slow motion, natch) and then, as if it really mattered since he's already dead, his body gets blown apart after it falls onto a land mine. By my final estimate, the body count in this picture equals those witnessed in Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day and Schindler's List combined.

Smith and Lawrence aren't the problem here: Their incessant bickering gets tiresome, but both have charisma to burn. But on second thought, maybe they are the problem: If they'd both been conscientious enough to turn down their hefty paychecks, then we wouldn't be burdened with a Bad Boys II.

Action movies simply were not meant to be as boring as the first two pictures in the Tomb Raider franchise. Where's the quickening of the pulse, the racing of the heart, the holding of the breath? With 2001's Lara Croft Tomb Raider and now Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (*1/2), the most a viewer can expect is the numbing of the brain and the closing of the eyelids. In my review of the first film, I wrote that it "ambles along at the speed of a slug through spilt salt." Here, the pace can best be described as similar to crawling through quicksand with two broken legs and a refrigerator strapped to your back. Clearly, this series is meant to evoke the spirit of the Indiana Jones films, but when the exposition is so arid, the stunts so standard, and the effects so ordinary, it's hard to even work up to the excitement level of a Scooby-Doo cartoon.

As before, the movie's main attribute is Angelina Jolie. Beyond her exotic beauty (eerily accurate for what was originally a video-game creation), she just looks right in the role, with an athletic frame and devil-may-care smirk that convince viewers that this super-heroine can tangle with the best of the screen adventurers. But director Jan De Bont and the movie's three scripters have inexplicably tempered her character's more saucy qualities -- having her spend mucho screen time romantically entangled with a rakish sidekick (bland Gerard Butler) was simply a bad call.

Then again, it's not as if the action sequences use her well, either. The first movie at least contained a couple of fairly inspired set pieces, but there's nothing in this one that seems remotely fresh. Even the rock-tree monsters that appear late in the game look familiar -- perhaps disgruntled extras from the set of Fraggle Rock.

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