Bad Company (2002)
written by: Jason Richman and Michael Browning
starring: Chris Rock, Anthony Hopkins, Kerry Washington, Gabriel Macht, and John Slattery
So we're about two-thirds of the way through the Schumacher filmography, and we've seen a pretty wide variety of films so far. Some heightened, some very grounded, some fantastical, some mundane, some good, some not so good. My feeling so far has been that pretty much all of them have at least had a personal touch which makes them special, a sense of panache, a certain something that make them particularly a Schumacher joint, and not a film that could have been directed by anyone else. In ways he's a journeyman, taking work wherever and delivering what's expected, but always with his own touches and interest. Those touches elevate his movies from the sludge of directors whose names you'll never learn. I love and respect those touches, and look out for them, and celebrate them when they appear.
This is the problem inherent in Bad Company. It has no panache, no flair, no particular viewpoint or engaged interest. It has no flavor, no life, no nothing. It is purely generic and deeply uninteresting for that. I spent most of the movie thinking about if this movie fit into the Mission: Impossible timeline where Anthony Hopkins is head of the IMF, a subsidiary of the CIA. That's not a sign of a good or engaging film. The problem is that this is not a Joel Schumacher movie-- technically, yes, his name is on it, but my man Joel Schumacher would never make a movie this lifeless and boring. It's so unbearably like everything else that was coming out in 2002. It exists in the same realm as The Sum of All Fears, Body of Lies, and The Recruit. I thought about this Mission: Impossible connection, but both M:I 2 and M:I 3 (which I think is fatally generic and don't even like) are better, more engaging movies than Bad Company.
Which is a damn shame, because if there was ever anyone who could bring some life into a script so predictable, dull, and uninspired, it might be Joel Schumacher. He's done more with less in the past, and yet Bad Company remains an utterly forgettable piece of early-2000's action dreck. One gets the sense that Schumacher simply didn't care. The direction is uninterested, uninspired. It's entirely functional, of course-- the action is clean, the movement precise, the actors are doing their best. There's nothing actively bad about this movie, but there's nothing actively good either.
As far as plot goes, it's pretty whatever. Anthony Hopkins leads a team of CIA agents-- including future USA Network stars Gabriel Macht and Daniel Sunjata, along with non-USA Network star but Grey's Anatomy and Law & Order star Brooke Smith-- on a clandestine mission to recover a nuclear bomb from a black market arms dealer. It's a classic McGuffin plot, nothing to fuss over. After a lush opening sequence in Prague (honestly gorgeously shot, and it's a shame the rest of the movie isn't quite so luxurious), a member of the team (Chris Rock) is killed. Of course he's the most important member for this particular mission, having developed the connections necessary with the criminal underworld for the black market deal to occur. Luckily for the CIA, that dead agent has an identical twin brother who they will pull into the fray to complete the mission and save the world. If only they were the IMF, so they could use a mask to get the job done, but no, shenanigans must ensue.
I think you can imagine how that shakes out. The twin brother, Jake (also Chris Rock, of course), is utterly different than the lost agent, and his casual, goofy demeanor sets him at odds with the serious agents at the CIA. Theoretically this is a comedy, I guess, and you can see how that's a comic set up. Chris Rock paired up with Anthony Hopkins at his most serious makes for a could-be charming odd-couple-y, fish-out-of-water narrative. It's just... not very funny. I'm not sure comedy is exactly Schumacher's strong suit, but the way this one straddles tones and genres (goofy and funny one minute, serious and action-packed the next) keeps it from being entirely successful in either one. It's not a failure by any means though-- There are certainly funny, enjoyable moments to be had, as well as solid, fun action. They just speak to each other in any meaningful way.
In his review, Roger Ebert talks about how each action sequence feels designed to stand on it's own, separate from the movie around it. I think he's right-- there's a disconnect between any larger story, thin though it is, and the chases and shoot-outs. And I mean it when I say the action is well done. Clearly having learned his lessons from the Batman movies, Schumacher's action is crisp, clear, and often exciting. There's one very good car chase through a field, where the suitcase containing the bomb tumbles out of cars and has to be recovered by daring and skillful driving. That's perfectly fun. There's a solid foot chase over the roofs of Manhattan where Gabriel Macht and Daniel Sunjata get to show off how good they are at jumping and holding guns. They do look very professional, I admit.
But it's all pretty blasé in presentation. There's no serious thrill in watching this movie, and very little of visual interest to latch on to. It's fine, of course, perfectly competent, just not... anything special. Overall the look is chilly and moody, the washed out fluorescents of office buildings and clandestine meetings. Occasionally there is warmth, but nothing transcendent, and it doesn't really seem to be used to much purpose. Even the performances feel uninterested. Chris Rock is doing his best to inject some life, but everyone else is so dour they drag him down. His character never gets a chance to warm up to anyone he works with, except Hopkins a little, and their relationship's eventual chumminess comes across as forced and abrupt. I wouldn't have minded a little more with Gabriel Macht, who is essentially a third lead while playing a part that could be filled by a cardboard cut-out. There's a hint at some sort of mentor relationship with Hopkins which goes unexplored but could have been rich and interesting. Similarly, there's a weird implication that Brooke Smith is dating Anthony Hopkins (who is not only her boss but thirty years her senior), but that goes unexplored too! It's also a little gross and I wish it wasn't there!
The main emotional arc of the movie is a very small emotional plot between Rock and Hopkins, which could have used some beefing up. Maybe it's just there to pad out a spy romp, but it's presented a little too seriously for that to be it. I think it's supposed to carry the weight of the movie, but no one seems all that interested in giving it any time or serious attention. It boils down to an argument about how dangerous it is to get emotionally attached to your agents, which Hopkins carries stubbornly and coldly on his shoulder. Every time an agent you like gets killed, it hurts, and that hurts the job. Hopkins liked the first twin, and that affection got him killed. He's reticent to allow himself to like this second twin, and his sadness looking at him is often quite palpable. It's a Schumacher-y piece of narrative, emotional and tender, about how human beings need each other. Conceptually, I'm really into it. If the heart of this movie was Anthony Hopkins grieving the loss of an agent he was close to, rejecting getting close to another, and then coming around to Chris Rock, that's something I could really get on board with. I have really gotten on board with how the Mission: Impossible series has done exactly that. Ethan Hunt is so hurt by the loss of his team in the first movie that he spends the next five movies digging in his heels to ensure it will never happen again. But here, the same kind of theme is presented rather shallowly and doesn't pack the same punch. Mission: Impossible isn't even doing that much work to make that theme sing, so you'd think it would be possible for another movie to achieve a modicum of it's thematic success. Bad Company, alas, does not do it.
Meanwhile there are maybe two moments that, visually at least, stood out as Schumacher-y to me-- somewhere in the last third, when the bomb exchange goes down, there's a cross-cutting sequence that goes from a cold blue warehouse to a warm and sunny cathedral, and the visual juxtaposition is really lovely. It felt familiar and tense-- Gabriel Macht is enacting a bank code switch in a cold blue concrete shell of a room, and the icy tension there, coupled with the fact that he's alone, amps up the tension. You feel his danger. Simultaneously, Hopkins and Rock are doing the physical exchange in a Czech cathedral, bathed in hazy bright light.
Then, the final sequence takes place in the lost luggage room at Grand Central. It's an amazing, intricate set, and that level of thoughtful, in depth scenic design has been sorely lacking from most of the rest of the picture. And! That scene features character driven action, as Macht, Hopkins, and Rock weave through the luggage to try and collect and diffuse a bomb. There's drama, danger, genuine tension! It made me sad for how blah I had felt during the rest of the two hours. I mean good god, I couldn't even be bothered to learn anyone's names. Jake? Oakes? What was Gabriel Macht's character's name? I honestly have no idea at all.
Because, alas, overall it's such a nothing of a movie that could have been made by anyone. You can sortof just feel how little everyone cared. More than any of the previous films in Schumacher's filmography, there's no passion or interest in this one. It's functional and the direction gets the job done. This is a movie with a beginning, middle and end. But it's also a movie that pretty much doesn't exist. It's not terrible, not good, not interesting or funny or memorable. It's just... a thing. There's isn't a single scene in the movie that I would say, "Oh, but this is worth seeing." I'm deeply disappointed in it for that reason particularly. It's not actively offensive or anything, it's just.... not anything at all. I expect more from Joel Schumacher. Maybe that's unfair, but I really do expect some liveliness even from his paycheck films. He's capable of it, and to see so little of that skill, interest and capability on display is so disappointing.
Oh but I do want to say it was nice to see John Slattery in a movie, snidely running the CIA with his assistant Shea Whigham (playing a perfectly decent human being!!).
And I got to spend two hours imagining what happens with the rest of the IMF while Ethan Hunt is gallivanting around the world crashing helicopters. Can't be too mad about that.
Overall: ★ ★
Up next: Phone Booth (2002)