Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Bad Company

Posted By on Wed, Jun 12, 2002 at 12:00 AM

An "action-comedy" company associating Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins, actor-comedian Chris Rock, director Joel Schumacher and producer Jerry Bruckheimer may sound like a high-risk venture. It’s the kind of Hollywood project that might not warrant any more investment than a scan of the publicity that features the stars in their James Bond poses.

Most of us know what to expect of the players. Hopkins will provide a reserved cool; Rock will be Rock; and Schumacher will professionally manage the mayhem while Bruckheimer underwrites the required testosterone-ignited pyrotechnics. The big question is does Bad Company actually deliver? It mostly does — for what it’s worth — and actually manages a few bonus pleasant surprises.

Hopkins gives his veteran CIA agent, Gaylord Oakes, a bit more tether than James Stevens, the pathologically restrained butler of The Remains of the Day (1993), but he never allows Oakes to reach the end of it. Oakes is cool almost to the freezing point, neither shaken nor stirred while under fire or lethally delivering it. But Hopkins never drops into the ironically gleeful chill of his Hannibal Lecter. It’s a performance that may be overachieving for such a forgettable entertainment.

On the other hand, Rock lacks the acting skills of the comedian-turned-actor who made the action-comedy a box office phenomenon with Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Eddie Murphy, or the genre’s reigning fresh prince, Will Smith. As impeccably educated CIA agent Kevin Pope, under cover as a discriminating antiquities dealer, Rock’s only credible when his mouth is closed. But when he shoots it off as Kevin’s separated-at-birth twin brother, Jake Hayes, a street-wise Jersey homeboy, he finds his groove.

The plot of Bad Company is what Hollywood insiders call "high concept": In only nine days, a master spy (Oakes) must train an underachieving punk to impersonate said punk’s sophisticated twin brother and thus save the world from nuclear catastrophe. It’s My Fair Lady (1964) meets Mission: Impossible (1996) with Oakes as Professor Henry Higgins to Jake’s unlikely Eliza Doolittle. Screenwriters Jason Richman and Michael Browning wisely downplay the inherent odd-couple buddy cliché and craft a plot line that manages to suspend an incredible amount of disbelief, but sags, burdened by Jake’s girl troubles.

With the odd moment of suspense, the occasional painterly sheen of Schumacher’s visual storytelling and Bruckheimer’s reallocation of his fireball budget towards a more modest truckload of ammo and a novel car chase through the meadows of the Czech Republic, Bad Company delivers at least a share of its promised goods.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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