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SCHUMACHER AND BRUCKHEIMER ARE BAD COMPANY

LongIsland.com

by Ben Kenigsberg Despite being widely (and correctly) chastised for destroying the Batman franchise, and despite having fashioned Eight Millimeter -- which I regularly cite as the worst film ...

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by Ben Kenigsberg

Despite being widely (and correctly) chastised for destroying the

Batman

franchise, and despite having fashioned

Eight Millimeter

-- which I regularly cite as the worst film I've ever seen -- Joel Schumacher continues to make movies. One surmised that his skin must have been thicker than a three-day-old Fribble, but that's just the start of it.

Directors have to be really firm of purpose before they have a character deliver a speech about morals, or else it comes across as lecturing. But Schumacher is sure enough of his moral righteousness to place his directorial credit over a shot of a church choir singing. And at the end of


Bad Company


, as at the end of

Eight Millimeter

, he allows the villain to deliver a monologue that suggests the heroes are not as noble as they appear. But given that, in this case, the villain is a nuclear arms dealer selling weapons to terrorists, using him as a moral mouthpiece probably isn't such a good idea. (For those three of you who saw

Collateral Damage

, it's basically the same speech.)

That late scene typifies Schumacher's struggle to find the right tone for the movie. If

Bad Company

were content to be a silly Chris Rock vehicle, it might have had something. But the movie tries framing the comedy with a low-grade Bond ripoff and tries framing that with a message about the potential danger of nuclear weapons being sold on the black market (as if we needed to be reminded, one week after

The Sum of All Fears

). I'm getting tired of writing that such-and-such a movie's release was delayed because of September 11, but here's another one.

The screenplay appears to have been composed according to the results of test screenings. The movie's four writers know that Chris Rock is funny, so they allow him ample time to goof around. They know that chase sequences are exciting, so they supply one or two of those. And of course, no thriller would be complete without a scene of a time bomb ticking down to zero.

But just because ingredients worked in the past doesn't mean they'll work in the present. A successful movie requires style, timing, and a sense of purpose;

Bad Company

operates by rote. Rock has about two good one-liners in this flick, and that's nowhere near enough. The chase sequences are poorly edited. And Rock and co-star Anthony Hopkins have no chemistry.

Hopkins plays a CIA agent named Gaylord Oakes (!) whose partner Kevin (Rock) is killed while working undercover to prevent a nuclear bomb from falling into the wrong hands. Oakes needs Kevin's twin brother Jake (also Rock) to stand in Kevin's place until the deal can be completed. Problem is, Kevin listened to classical music, went to Dartmouth, and had a knowledge of fine wines. Jake listens to rap, never went to college, and scalps tickets for a living. So Oakes has his work cut out for him.

The movie establishes early on that Jake is, indeed, quite intelligent, and certainly capable of pulling the mission off without a hitch. So why, when put into action, does he start to screw things up? Why does he shout, "I want to watch Oprah!" when he should grab a gun and start shooting the bad guy?

The answer, I suspect, is that the filmmakers thought that the movie would be funnier if Jake couldn't pull it off. It may be counterintuitive, but the opposite is the case: it would have been funnier if Jake succeeded in convincing others, but made wisecracks when everyone left the room. The movie is about a character who's required to keep his cool, and we know that Rock can't keep his cool for very long. The more suave Rock would act, the funnier the situation would be.

Part of the problem may be Rock's performance. He's a talented comedian, but he doesn't have range. As Kevin, he delivers his lines in monotone, totally unsure of himself. His speech tempo is too fast for an espionage thriller.

Hopkins, on the other hand, could speak at any speed he would like to as long as he speaks in his usual imperious voice. Rock may come across as giving a worse performance than he does because Hopkins is able to feign more interest in being in the movie.

Bad Company

is obscenely overproduced. Sequences are edited so quickly that, in the final shoot-out, it's impossible to figure out who shoots whom and from what angle. When the characters travel to New York, Schumacher can't resist a music video-style pan of the Statue of Liberty. The whole film seems to have been shot through the same ugly blue filter.

The film isn't bad enough to make me want to vent, which may give you an idea of how minor it is. Atrocious movies, at least, are memorable. Once

Bad Company

leaves the new-release racks at Blockbusters, it'll be condemned to mediocre-movie hell alongside most other Jerry Bruckheimer productions, like

Con Air

and

Gone in 60 Seconds

.

Pearl Harbor

has a level all its own.