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Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2002
Clothes don't make the movie
By KAORI SHOJI
Filmmaker Joel Schumacher is what the Japanese film critics refer to as otokobiiki, or a man with a deep appreciation of men. Over the years the label has stuck -- during the "Batman" series, a lot of ink was spilled on his incredible sensitivity and skill at highlighting the male mystique (remember Jim Carrey in a skin-tight Riddler suit?) without bothering to expend the same energy on female characters. (Even in films like "The Client," child actor Brad Renfro looked so much cuter than Susan Sarandon.) A costume designer before becoming a director, Schumacher deploys a natural elegance when displaying his male characters onscreen. Let's just say he knows how to make men look extra good, and his latest, "Bad Company," is no exception.
"Bad Company" pairs Anthony Hopkins with rising star Chris Rock. Hopkins plays a veteran CIA agent called Oakes and Rock stars as Jake, a new recruit plucked out of Washington Square Park. Oakes has nine days to train Jake as a special operations agent and Jake only comes on board because he's been promised 50 grand. Scalping tickets to sports events and DJing at third-rate clubs had been Jake's life, but he hopes the money will provide the passport to a happy marriage with his girlfriend Julie (Kerry Washington).
Oakes has bigger things on his mind. An old, Soviet-manufactured, portable nuclear bomb is on the market and the CIA must get their hands on it before some Euro-terrorists get there first. The seller is Vas (Peter Stormare), a sleazy ex-KGB agent who is demanding that $20 million be deposited in his Swiss bank account. Jake's job is to pass himself off as an antiques dealer named Michael Turner, mediate the purchase and "authenticate" the merchandise before Oakes (disguised as a weapons merchant) makes the final payment. Jake's twin brother, Kevin (Rock in a double role), had been the agent for this job but was assassinated by rival terrorist buyers. It is now up to Jake to pose as Kevin, posing as Turner. As Jake so aptly puts it, "Man, this is complicated stuff. I need extra money to do this kind of gig."
A good buddy movie relies on good chemistry, and there's a lot of that between Hopkins and Rock. Except it's hard to tell whether the chemistry is genuine or just the foolproof formula of an irreverent, fast-talking, rap-loving brotha and an older, uptight white guy. Surely Rock brings nothing new to that equation, and neither does Hopkins, apart from an ice-cold demeanor and a British accent.
So Schumacher concentrates on the visuals. Hopkins has probably never gone through so many costume changes; we even get a rare glimpse of him in black baseball cap and leather jacket. There's even a scene in which an Eastern European henchman fingers his coat lapel seductively and whispers: "Ooh. Nice coat." Rock also morphs from street hustler to well-groomed secret agent, mostly by switching wardrobes and hairstyles. Schumacher certainly has an eye for men's suits and ties and he uses all of that precise taste in dressing Rock.
OK, so everyone looks gorgeous and the action is almost convincing, if not terribly original (car chases in which the bad guy struggles to stay in the car of the good guys, his head suspended about 2 cm above the ground while the rest of his body thrashes and kicks at the driver). Oh, and there are some enchanting city scenes of Prague, where the story begins.
But "Bad Company" remains the wrong film, mainly because screenwriters Jason Richman/Michael Browning, and Schumacher, screwed up on the politics: glorification of the CIA; glorification of violence (as long as it's American); and disdain for women. The last is pretty blatant, I mean given that Schumacher is a PC Hollywood director, shouldn't he have given actresses Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon (playing Turner's girlfriend) and Washington a bit more to work with, other than obvious girlfriend lines ("I hope you're hungry, baby," as she slips into black underwear) and typical sistah attitude?
Which brings us to the biggest problem: the film's too easy stereotyping of black and white buddies. Hopkins rather overdoes it on the proper, stolid gent who doesn't know what hip-hop is and looks like he accidentally bit into a caterpillar when he hears it, and Rock is the textbook street-smart big-mouth whose every performance has Eddie Murphy's DNA running through it. It's true that buddy stereotypes will usually work, it's just that the pitcher has gone to the well so many times. But this being a Jerry Bruckheimer production, "Bad Company" sequels are probably in the works. Hey, does this mean next time we get to see Anthony Hopkins with an earring?