7, 2002 | This weekend at your friendly neighborhood megaplex, you
can take your pick of nightmare scenarios. On one screen, there's the
deadly serious nuking of Baltimore in The Sum of All Fears. Starting
today, however, you can choose, instead, to see how the threat of a
similar disaster can be played for laughs - or at least mild chuckles
- in Bad Company, a rapid-fire cloak-and-dagger comedy-drama.
watching either film, you're bound to be disturbed by inadvertent but
unavoidable reminders of real-life terrorist attacks and the possibilities
of future catastrophes. At one point in Bad Company, someone
asks the CIA spook played by Anthony Hopkins how a nuclear weapon could
be smuggled into Manhattan. The spook calmly replies: "You'd be
surprised what you can send by air freight." Which, of course,
may very well be true. But it's not what many of us might like to think
about while enjoying an otherwise innocuous popcorn flick.
Company is much easier to take while it's focusing on relatively
harmless slam-bang thrills and spills - that is, while the threat of
nuclear terrorism in Manhattan is nothing more than a plot-goosing gimmick,
or what Alfred Hitchcock used to call a McGuffin. Fortunately, so much
of the movie is so frankly fantastic that it only occasionally chills
you with a hint of something genuinely upsetting.
only thing that's even mildly disconcerting during the opening scenes
is the stern-faced appearance of Hopkins' co-star, comic actor Chris
Rock. The setting is Prague, where CIA agent Gaylord Oaks (Hopkins)
and top operative Kevin Pope (Rock) put a $1 million down payment on
a suitcase-size nuclear weapon brokered by a Russian black-marketer.
Unfortunately, there's a rival bidder for the merchandise. One thing
leads to another, and Pope is fatally wounded during an ambush.
don't worry: Chris Rock is alive and well and living in New York, where
he's also cast as Jake Hayes, a motor-mouth chess hustler and ticket
scalper. Jake doesn't know he has - or, to be more precise, had - a
long-lost, separated-at-birth twin brother. But he's brought up to speed
when Oaks and company appear on the scene, using smooth talk and big
bucks to coax Jake into posing as his sibling just long enough to complete
the Prague deal 10 days hence.
reluctantly agrees, and not just because of the big bucks. Screenwriters
Jason Richman and Michael Browning obviously learned a lot from the
chapter of Screenwriting for Dummies that encourages would-be
scribes to make even selfish hustlers as sympathetic as possible. So
Jake gets a noble motive: He wants to convince his nursing-student girlfriend,
Julie (Kerry Washington), that he's not as immature -- or at least not
as chronically broke -- as she fears.
and Browning must have paid even closer attention to other chapters
of that how-to book, because they rarely stray from the formulaic during
the modestly amusing scenes in which the streetwise Jake is taught how
to pass himself off as his late brother, a wise and worldly Navy Academy
grad and globetrotting CIA op.
Company doesn't really begin to percolate until agents of the rival
bidder arrive in New York to kill "Kevin Pope." Naturally,
their attack fails. But it generates an exciting shoot-out between CIA
ops and terrorist gunmen.
More important, in Oaks' view, the attempted
assassination means the bad guys - and, presumably, the Russian black
marketer - accept the ruse that Kevin Pope is still alive.
Company hops back to Prague for some more briskly paced gunplay,
then returns to Manhattan for a tense showdown with a terrorist from
the former Yugoslavia. The terrorist wants to "punish" the
West for ignoring the protracted implosion of his homeland by detonating
that suitcase-size nuke in downtown Manhattan. (A plot twist, it should
be noted, that the movie lifts from 1997's The Peacemaker.) Oaks
and Jake, not surprisingly, are eager to pre-empt the big bang.
Schumacher (The Client, A Time to Kill) is credited as director
of Bad Company, but the true auteur of the piece clearly is Jerry Bruckheimer
(The Rock, Enemy of the State). Indeed, all the Bruckheimer hallmarks
- A-list actors cast as B-movie archetypes, a thunderous musical score,
lots of high-tech machinery and an abundance of moodily lit, bluish-gray
interiors - are on display in one slick, sleek package.
breezes through the proceedings with an appealingly jaded nonchalance
- note the casual way Oaks pumps one last bullet into a fallen bad guy
- that easily morphs into steely authority whenever such stern stuff
is required. Rock is too broad - and, worse, a bit too borderline-offensive
caricature-like - whenever Jake whines, screams and otherwise expresses
mortal fear. But he's very good in scenes where Jake stands up for himself,
and even better during the relatively serious beat-the-clock heroics
of the movie's final half-hour.
an odd-couple, buddy-buddy action-comedy, Bad Company is a mixed
bag. The comical bits often are so overplayed that they actually get
in the way of the familiar but effective thriller elements. But there
are a few truly hilarious moments, mostly when Hopkins and Rock play
off against each other without raising their voices. There are probably
lots of people out there who will pay first-run admission prices just
to hear Hopkins mimicking gangsta-speak while telling Rock, in his trademark
mellifluous voice, "Get in the car, bitch!"