Late in "Bad Company," maybe too late to make much of a difference, Chris Rock is finally permitted to rear back, let fly and take control of the screen. This long-awaited electricity comes just after John Slattery, as a smug, cold-fish CIA official, patronizes Rock's Jake Hayes, a street hustler from Jersey City pressed into spy duty that's placed him in harm's way.
Rock's character unloads steaming bricks of inspired vitriol against Slattery and his cronies for this whole nerve-racking situation, persuasively arguing at one point that if a woman had heard that Saddam Hussein was sleeping with her husband, she'd find the Iraqi leader faster than the CIA.
This is the fire-breathing, up-to-the-minute iconoclasm that made Rock the preeminent stand-up satirist of our time--made him, in fact, hot enough to cast as a co-star in this high-profile Jerry Bruckheimer production. Once Rock's tirade ends, Slattery sheepishly turns to his nonplused troops and says, "OK, show's over." And it is--except that there's still about 25 minutes of meandering bluster and bewildering car chases through the caverns of Manhattan in pursuit of terrorists ready to blow up the city with a portable nuclear bomb.
Whether you care if they find them or not may depend on how much you've been able to withstand "Bad Company's" sensory overload of firefights, vehicular mayhem, techno-cool swagger and enough bumptious contrivances to fill several seasons of daffy prime-time soaps.
This lumbering machine, directed with a lighter-than-usual touch by Joel Schumacher, is set in motion when secret agent Kevin Pope (Rock) is murdered by these terrorists while trying to buy the itinerant nuke from a Russian mobster (Peter Stormare). Since no one except his CIA bosses knows that Pope is dead, agency field chief Gaylord Oakes (Anthony Hopkins) forges a hail-Mary plan to recruit Pope's twin brother, Hayes (see, they were given up to different parents for adoption), to take his place in negotiations for the bomb.
Hopkins squints, sneers and glides through his action-hero duties, chewing toothpicks and gum along with pieces of scenery. His character Oakes (isn't William F. Buckley Jr. entitled to some loose change for lending his own spy hero's last name to this thing?) drags Rock's Jake through a crash course in international spy craft without really connecting with whatever innate intelligence Jake brings to the table. Only we're allowed to notice how cerebral and commanding Jake is at hustling chess games and Madison Square Garden tickets, to see the raw material for heroism and dimension.
Once he's in deep cover, however, Jake is placed at the mercy of events. His--and Rock's--intelligence is subsumed by tired cliches. He spends much of "Bad Company" being jittery, dysfunctional and perpetually frightened in the manner of Mantan Moreland's Birmingham Brown roles in dozens of 1940s Charlie Chan movies.
Moreland, as with most of his black comic peers of his era, had talents that far exceeded the roles he was offered. But they took such demeaning roles because, back then, Hollywood didn't give them any choice. Rock, given his clout in pop culture, does have a choice. Many choices. Or so one presumes.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language. Times guidelines: Fairly brutal violence and nasty talk for a PG-13 film.
Gene Seymour is a film critic for Newsday, a Tribune company.
Chris Rock...Jake Hayes/Kevin Pope
Matthew Marsh...Dragan Adjanic
A Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films presentation, released by Buena Vista Pictures. Director Joel Schumacher. Producers Jerry Bruckheimer, Mike Stenson. Executive producers Chad Oman, Clayton Townsend, Larry Simpson, Gary Goodman. Screenplay by Jason Richman and Michael Browning, story by Gary Goodman and David Himmelstein. Cinematographer Dariusz A. Wolski. Editor Mark Goldblatt. Costume designer Beatrix Pasztor. Music Trevor Rabin. Production designer Jan Roelfs. Art director Wray Steven Graham. Set decorator Leslie Pope. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times