When a top CIA operative, who is putting the final touches on a deal that will help him nab some black market nuclear bomb salesmen/terrorists (led by Peter Stormare, "Fargo"), is killed in the line of duty, it falls into the hands of his partner, Gaylord Oakes (Anthony Hopkins), to track down his twin brother Jake (Chris Rock) to take his place and finish the deal. A fast-talking ticket scalper, Jake knows nothing about international espionage, but once it's learned that a bomb might be headed to the heart of New York City, it's up to Gaylord and Jake to try and stop the terrorists.
Jerry Bruckheimer productions tend to walk the same path: the turbo-charged action set pieces, bluish-tinted photography, the synth driven "McScore" by Trevor Rabin, and some kind of conflict set inside a warehouse or gasworks. These are the elements that have made Bruckheimer a multi-millionaire, but also one of the most artistically corrupt producers currently working. His new production, "Bad Company" (IMDb listing), is another foray into Bruckheimer land, but for the initial 90 minutes, the film works in a way that I wasn't expecting. Directed by Joel Schumacher (the equally loathed director of "Batman and Robin," who has creatively rebounded recently with the unwatchably interesting "Flawless" and the just plain old interesting "Tigerland"), "Bad Company" is certainly by the numbers, but it coasts along with a tight pace and slightly-winning performances out of the two leads. The action itself is also a pleasure, if only because it doesn't reach the stratospheric heights of straight-faced absurdity that Bruckheimer flotsam such as "Gone In 60 Seconds" and "Armageddon" did. It did feel weird buying into the over-thought screen crafting of "Bad Company" the same way I did with the camp-fest "Con Air." "Bad Company" is hardly remarkable, but for a summer action movie, it works efficiently enough to give out some temporary smiles and thrills.
Then comes the last act of the film, a 25-minute patchwork quilt of clichés that features a suitcase nuclear bomb, armed-to-the-teeth assassins and Grand Central Station. The old bombastic Bruckheimer (and Schumacher for that matter) raises his head, and "Bad Company" becomes exactly that. What was once breezy and easily forgivable becomes cancerous and degenerative. The film turns into the labored, bottom-heavy action film it was trying to avoid becoming. At the 90-minute mark, there is a terrific car chase through the weary city streets and breathtaking countryside of Prague. The story is resolved there, and the film climaxes at this point as well. It is essentially a great place to end "Bad Company." All this drawn-out-well-past-its-expiration-date-bomb/civilians-junk is just a Bowie knife into the tires of the film. And it almost, almost, goes so far as to completely erase all the fun that was had before.
Since the film was heavily edited both after 9/11, and to get a PG-13 rating, "Bad Company" doesn't really have a cohesive storyline to fall back upon. It's your basic mishmash of international chicanery, only now the motives are a little blurred (there is talk of an Afghani background on one of the terrorists, but that never comes up again), and the violence inflicted on the innocent and the guilty has been neutered (a character gets his eyelid slashed with a scalpel, but the scene has been toned down so much, that you have a hard time figuring out just what has happened). So without the narrative to act as a spine, "Bad Company" relies on its two stars, Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock, to hold the film up. Hopkins seems to be having some fun doing his best John McClane impression as the weary, yet utterly confident agent, and it works for him. There is surplus of physical maneuvering here for the 65 year-old actor, and though he looks like he's about to keel over at any minute, Hopkins is wonderful for this tough guy role. Especially impressive, as the role doesn't require him to eat any faces.
Rock, on the other hand, is a more complicated problem. There is no doubt in my mind that Rock is one of the funniest people on Earth. He's just a master comedian. But Rock is also one dreadful actor. Look at "Down To Earth," or the darker moments of Kevin Smith's "Dogma," and you'll see Rock work the funny with a scary ease, but he'll drop the drama like it was a hot potato. He's just not skilled enough to make the emotional leaps that his characters need. And as his choice of projects goes deeper into that need to prove himself, I fear his acting will become as unintentionally hilarious as his one-liners. "Bad Company" doesn't require too much of Rock, but there is just enough drama to make his performance look very bad. He does get off some terrific jokes (his training sequences with Hopkins are the film's best moments), but it becomes very clear in the mind-numbing finale that Schumacher is leaning on Rock to keeps things light, and the jokes then become less and less effective. I support Rock in his journey as a more serious actor, but he needs help, and a truly great director, if he wants to make that leap away from comedies.
Just the hint of Bruckheimer softening his blow is probably enough to recommend "Bad Company," but I wouldn't go that far. The film is actually quite fun and humorous, just leave the theater after about 90 minutes, and you will most certainly have a great time.
Filmfodder Grade: C