Take the homoerotic subtext of the buddy movie and accessorize: Make it interracial, a la “48HRS.” or “Lethal Weapon.” Toss in chains, handcuffs, some manner of bondage equipment (“The Defiant Ones,” “Fled”). What you have is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. If not necessarily a good movie.
What we have in “Bulletproof,” an action-thriller starring Adam Sandler and Damon Wayans as star-crossed pals on the run, is more of a romance, with all the attendant anxieties--desire, betrayal, bitterness, broken hearts--but, in the end, a love that’s here to stay. Yes, there’s excruciatingly bad acting, ventilated bodies, rampant misogyny, a fixation on the scatological, derisive gay references and the mandatory strip-club scene. But is it enough to throw us off the scent? No way. “Bulletproof” is the romance of the year.
Archie Moses, a small-time operator who acts like Adam Sandler (which means he can’t act, because he is Adam Sandler), is best pals with fellow low-life Rock Keats (Damon Wayans). He’s even taken him home to meet Mom. Naturally, when Archie gets involved with car dealer-cum-drug dealer Frank Colton (James Caan) he wants to cut Rock in.
What Archie doesn’t know is that Rock’s a cop; what Rock doesn’t know is how he’s gonna bring himself to let little Archie take the fall. “Are you sweet on him?” asks Capt. Jensen (James Farentino). Rock doth protest too much.
The bust goes from bad to worse. Archie accidentally shoots Rock in the head. Colton wants Archie dead because he’s lost him men and money. Rock does about three minutes in rehab before being sent out to retrieve Archie, who thinks Rock’s done him wrong: We were so close, how could you do this to me? He whines. He screams. Hell hath no fury like a “Saturday Night Live” refugee scorned.
At the same time, Rock is understandably miffed with Archie for the hole in his forehead, which he assumes was deliberate. Sigh. What they fail to understand is that communication is the key to any lasting relationship.
Besides its other antecedents, “Bulletproof” is “Midnight Run” without Charles Grodin, which is like “Billy Madison” without . . . no, nevermind. Directed by Ernest Dickerson, the film looks fine, as one might expect, but isn’t particularly funny and often makes no sense. Besides the alarmingly short period of time Rock spends with his physical therapist Traci (Kristen Wilson) before walking, talking, falling in love and moving in with her, there are several other dubious moments.
Other than that, “Bulletproof” is your standard vulgar, mindless, action-buddy flick, albeit with a love story at its center--something that might have marked the movie as a landmark among the kind of fictional relationships that date back to “Huckleberry Finn,” if it weren’t trying so hard to deny its identity.
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* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence and language, some sexuality and drug use. Times guidelines: excessive vulgarity, sexual references and violence.
Damon Wayans: Rock Keats
Adam Sandler: Archie Moses
James Farentino: Capt. Jensen
Kristen Wilson: Traci Flynn
James Caan: Frank Colton
A Bernie Brillstein-Brad Grey/Robert Simonds/Gold-Miller production, released by Universal Pictures. Director Ernest Dickerson. Producer Robert Simonds. Screenplay by Joe Gayton, Lewis Colick. Cinematographer Steven Bernstein. Art directors Perry Andelin Blake, William F. Matthews. Editor George Folsey Jr. Costume designer Marie France. Music Elmer Bernstein.
* In general release throughout Southern California.