Smoking Rock

Someone must have been to come up with Bad Company

So this is what it's come to: another week, another terrorist-with-a-suitcase-nuke movie. Last Friday, it was up to Ben Affleck to save the world from nuclear annihilation, an unsavory proposition. He succeeded, but not before the Super Bowl disappeared in a holocaust flash. This Friday, it's Chris Rock's turn to disarm a briefcase bomb, James Bond-style, before it levels Grand Central Station and half of Manhattan -- in clumsy scenes played, inexplicably, for pathos andlaughs. Filmmakers, who for a couple of hours fretted about making films that too closely mirrored horrible headlines, now dump on us these brainless, insensitive thrillers that exist in a vacuum, in a time warp. It's as though 9/11 never happened as the movies return to business as usual -- callously, cynically.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer -- whose résumé drips with dimwitted, gold-plated escapism such as The Rock, Armageddon, Con Air, and Gone in 60 Seconds -- has always insisted he not only gives audiences what they want but what they didn't even know they craved. Here, he's made a major miscalculation: Bad Company is something no one wants or will everneed.

Imagine Buck Henry in The Player, shoveling manure to Tim Robbins: Rock plays a CIA agent gone undercover as an antiques dealer who also buys nuclear weapons (only the first of copious what-the-hell? moments). When Rock is killed by rival buyers, CIA agent Anthony Hopkins recruits Rock's streetwise, ticket-scalping, chess-playing twin to seal the deal, with only a week to train. Otherwise, the world goes kablooey when terrorists get hold of the nuke and detonate it God knows where. It's a black-white buddy pic, a thriller-comedy, an actioner -- and, by film's end, absolutely nothing at all.

Bad Company, directed by Joel Schumacher (the man who killed the Batman franchise) and written by a gaggle of hacks, is the first Bruckheimer film to bore the hell out of its audience. Hopkins proves there is indeed a fine line between a character playing weary and an actor growing uninterested. He's so disconnected from his character, Gaylord Oakes, and those around him that he appears to be on a different set altogether. (At least Robert Duvall, who occasionally slums it in Bruckheimer pics, gives his all; if Duvall is shameless, then Hopkins is simply ashamed.) And Rock, as hustler Jake Hayes, is at his best when mimicking his standup act, when joking that "my family was so poor, we had to lick postage stamps for food." Here, as in Nurse Bettyand Down to Earth, Rock hints there's no substance to his work without the spotlight focused directly on him. He plays every scene so big and broad, there's no room for anyone else; he's a ball hog who keeps dropping the ball at key moments. If this is supposed to be comedy, why isn't it ever, for one second, funny?

To damn Bad Companyas insensitive and empty-headed is, ultimately, to give it too much credit. The filmmakers aren't serious men, and theirs is not a sober movie. It doesn't even make sense, and it apparently knows it: Scenes are bogged down with reams of jargon and gibber jabber, exposition meant to imply great depth but there only to confuse and distract us from the sad reality that in this movie, like most everything else Bruckheimer's ever done, nothing means anything.

 
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