Bad Boys (1983)

1 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The opening-credit sequence in “Bad Boys” includes pictures of who I suppose are the actors (or specifically, in this case, the characters the actors portray) as little children. They look like harmless, clean-cut, innocent, sweet kids and they probably were for a time. But they must have gone down the wrong path to become what the title of the movie describes them as—“Bad Boys.” What caused them to be like this? It could be neglect, abuse, or maybe (and most chillingly) they just didn’t care about anything anymore. Any one of those would be good reason as to why these boys act like this. In “Bad Boys,” the bad boys aren’t romanticized, but are more like objects for a cautionary tale.

Sean Penn acts convincingly in a role that made him a star as the main focus of this story—a young Chicago thug named Mick O’Brien. The only thing he’s ever cared for is his girlfriend JC (Ally Sheedy). He hates his life at home and performs felonies all over the city. But one night, something goes wrong with a local drug dealer—Paco Mareno (Esai Morales), also a teenager—and results in the death of Moreno’s younger brother. O’Brien is sent to a juvenile reformatory where the worst sort of teenagers do time and act out violently against each other.

The first half of “Bad Boys” is the best part of the whole movie. While O’Brien is in the reformatory, he learns the ropes, finds out who to trust—including his smart-aleck roommate Horowitz (Eric Gurry), and later becomes respected after pummeling a couple of sadistic thugs nicknamed “Viking” (Clancy Brown) and “Tweedy” (Robert Lee Rush). He learns that in this place, only the strong survive. The strengths of the first half come from the first-rate direction by Rick Rosenthal and the performances from the actors—especially Sean Penn, who is excellent and three-dimensional as the bad boy who seeks redemption in the wrong places.

But when Moreno brutally rapes O’Brien’s girlfriend and is put into the same reformatory as O’Brien, the movie starts to become predictable. It’s obvious that the two are going to duel to the death and that’s exactly how the movie is going to end. On top of that, it’s sort of obvious who’s going to win. Was a fighting climax really necessary?

But you can’t let something like that stop you from recommending a movie that is so strong up until that point. “Bad Boys” works for the most part because it shows realistic situations involving troublesome (and troubled) teenagers together in one building. Like I said, only the strong survive here. But these are people whose adult lives are over before they’ve barely begun. It’s a sad case for these kids because very few of them will get redemption—the rest of them will simply ask for more trouble. Take Horowitz, for example. There’s a scene later in the movie when he sets up a radio to explode in Viking’s face. Sure, Viking was a sadist to begin with and probably deserved what he had coming. But now, Horowitz has a troubling punishment all because of his actions. Only he’d stopped to think. That’s what the audience would think about every central character in this movie at this point. Actually, that’s something else to think about too—after the big climax at the end, everyone else is surprised by the outcome. Since I am recommending “Bad Boys,” I guess it’s fair to say that you should watch the final scene and wonder what the characters are thinking.

“Bad Boys” isn’t a great movie, but it comes so close to it. The performances from Sean Penn, Esai Morales, Eric Gurry, Ally Sheedy, Clancy Brown, Robert Lee Rush, and Reni Santoni (he plays a counselor in the reformatory) are very strong. The direction from Rick Rosenthal is excellent. Why did the movie have to end with a fight climax?

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