The music, opening scene and skyline made you feel like you were back in the 80’s, about to watch Axel Foley take down the gang responsible for the “alphabet crimes.” When you see the Porsche and realize that its occupants aren’t Taggart and Rosewood, but Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, and you saw that you were in Miami not LA, you knew you were in for something different, something special. With director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer (no coincidence that he also produced “Beverly Hills Cop II”) on board, your feelings were correct, as you were about to watch a classic, ground breaking movie.
The draw was obvious. Will Smith’s powerhouse career was growing quickly through hip-hop music, five seasons on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and the movie “Six Degrees of Separation.” Martin Lawrence had become a huge comedic success with his television show “Martin”, roles in “Do The Right Thing”, “House Party” and “Boomerang”, and his comedy special “You So Crazy.” They were two of the biggest stars in black entertainment, but they were being thrust into unfamiliar territory with major ramifications. They were given the lead roles in a new movie that would feature the first time that two black police officers were placed together as partners AND as headliners. It was an untested formula for the silver screen; we’d seen Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte (“48 Hours” and “Another 48 Hours”), Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal (“Running Scared”), Danny Glover and Mel Gibson (“Lethal Weapon” series) and even Steven Segal and Keith David (“Marked for Death”) come together to create box office smashes and classic films, but we had yet to see two black actors come together as the leads on the big screen, and two comedians at that. It was a big gamble for many, but the factors for success were there.
They had talent. They were funny. They were successful and had their own shows. They had mass appeal. They had Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. But could they pull it off? Would they have the chemistry to do it? Those questions were answered barely two minutes into the film, after Marcus (Lawrence) dropped a French fry in Mike’s (Smith) Porsche. With that exchange, you knew you were watching a hit.
The film description on IMDB states “Two hip detectives protect a murder witness while investigating a case of stolen heroin.” While I understand that their descriptions need to be brief, this summary does absolutely no justice to the film, its cast and its significance and impact, especially within the urban community. To give you some background, you must look at the preceding few years in film and music.
The late 80's/early 90’s was a golden age for urban entertainment. Classics such as “Do the Right Thing”, “House Party”, “Boyz in the Hood”, “New Jack City”, “Juice” and “Menace II Society” were flooding the theatres, depicting parts of urban life that many were a part of, got caught up in, didn’t want to acknowledge or were lucky enough to avoid. Musically gangsta’ rap, conscious/non-violent hip-hop and the New Jack Swing movement were at the top of the charts. Artists like Ice Cube (“AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”), Dr. Dre (“The Chronic”), the D.O.C. (“No One Can Do It Better”), De La Soul (“3 Feet High and Rising”), Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth (“Mecca And The Soul Brother”), Mary J. Blige (“What’s The 411”), Jodeci (“Forever My Lady”) and countless others were creating songs, albums and styles that dominated the charts, made millionaires out of inner-city artists and influenced cultures and life styles globally.
But after “Menace II Society” was released in 1993, audiences appeared to grow weary of the angry “hood” stories and music. They yearned for new storylines. More entertainment and lighter topics. Theyhad seen Dough Boy, Nino Brown, Bishop, O-Dog and Kane and now they clamored for more options, more inspirations. It was time for an attitude adjustment and the culture shifted to demand more general comedy, drama and action themes. This set the stage for “Bad Boys”, as Will and Martin brought great energy, laughs, entertainment credibility and incredible chemistry to the country, and they couldn’t have gotten it any “righter” from the start.
The casting was perfect, with Tea Leoni, Joe Pantoliano, Theresa Randle and Tcheky Karyo (Fouchet). Even John “Spider” Sally and Michael Imperioli had small, yet memorable roles, as Fletcher the Hacker and JoJo the Tire Man, respectively. The name was perfect, taking the song “Bad Boys” by Inner Circle and making it both the movie title and theme song, the running joke (even in “Bad Boys II”) being that Marcus only knew the chorus and never the actual words to the song. Combine that with the trademark slow motion cinematography, explosions, fast cars, shootouts and sound effects of Bay and Bruckheimer and you have a movie that always seems to cause you to stop what you’re doing at home to watch it, again and again and again.
But it was the roles, chemistry and dialog between Mike and Marcus that made the movie hilarious and special. One drove a Volvo and the other a Porshe. One wore an Oak Tree type vest (old school heads remember that store) and the other custom made suits. One was married and the other a player. This enabled these talents to give us the classic scenes and lines that everyone remembers and quotes.
The ice cream truck. Lukie and Dukie. "I'm not going down for you killing JoJo the Tire Man!" Tropical fruit bubbalicious and some skittles.
“Now that’s how you supposed to drive! From now on, that’s how you drive!”
Mike- “Everybody wants to be like Mike.
Captain Howard- “Yeah and you’re going to be retired like him too.”
Marcus- “I’d a dunked it on your ass.”
While the lines and roles were on point, it was the underlying cultural aspects, impact and implications of this movie that made it even more significant. We weren’t subjected to the Black drug dealer for his lifestyle to become glamorized again. We didn’t see black people acting foolish or stereotypical. You saw two black men acting in ways that didn’t make you feel uncomfortable or made you shake your head in frustration. One was a family man, the other was the bachelor, aspirations of all in one way or another. They worked hard, became detectives and were the focal points of the movie. They antagonized and clowned each other, yet they had each other’s backs, like real boys do. It wasn’t a stretch for audiences to believe Mike and Marcus were real, tangible; Black people saw new images on the big screen that they didn’t have to explain or apologize for. The cultural significance of that was immeasurable when weighed against characters such as Nino, Bishop or Buggin’ Out. The movie gave America another image of black men to explore and created more options for black actors looking to be successful in Hollywood.
There were so many moments in the movie that made you laugh so hard that you had to watch it again to see what you missed. But it was the random lines that were most memorable for me. My favorite? When they jumped in the garbage truck at the airport hangar, Mike yelled “My sh*t always works sometimes!” Fortunately for fans, Will, Martin and the rest of the “Bad Boys” crew, it’s always continued to work.
“We ride together, we die together. Bad boys for life.”
And 20 years later, we’re still riding with you guys.