THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Watching Bad Company is like watching a film from another era. Postponed from its original 2001 holiday release date due to the WTC attack, this is yet another thriller about some evil foreigners planning a terrorist attack on American soil. A mere nine months ago, we were all thinking that this kind of story was obsolete, never again to be seen on the big screen. Not only is the terrorism plot alive and kicking, Bad Company is also the second such movie to be released in two weeks (The Sum of All Fears is the other). And not only is it the second terrorism thriller in as many weeks, it is also yet another buddy picture in which a black guy and a white guy form an unlikely alliance after enduring a series of adventures together. I think the counter just hit 1,000,000 on this kind of thing. How long ago was it that we saw Robert DeNiro and Eddie Murphy do this shtick in Showtime? Three months? Four?

Anthony Hopkins trains Chris Rock on how to be a CIA agent in Bad Company
Chris Rock stars as Jake Hayes, a ticket scalper who is approached by CIA agent Gaylord Oakes (Anthony Hopkins) with a surprising bit of news: Jake had a twin brother he never knew about, and that brother was killed during a covert operation. Because his death left the mission incomplete, Oakes needs Jake to fill in for his late brother. This is not easy, as Jake is much less polished and refined. He is, however, the only hope our government has. The mission involves buying a nuclear bomb from one of those generic Eurotrash villains, Adrik Vas (Peter Stormare), so that some terrorist baddies can't buy it instead. Jake understands that there is potential danger and he just wants to get home alive to be with girlfriend Julie (Kerry Washington).

I'm not going to bore you with a more detailed plot description. You know how this goes. Oakes and Jake initially can't stand one another. Jake goes through one of those training montages in which he learns to act like a CIA agent. Guns get fired, cars chase one another, people are double-crossed. In the end, the heroes, having saved each others' lives, discover that - gosh darnit! - they really like each other. Nothing new there. The plot in Bad Company is like one of those paint-by-numbers kits in which everything is conveniently prearranged for your effortless consumption. You needn't think one iota to come up with an end product.

As it stands, this is a movie that is practically begging to be placed on a year-end list of the worst films. However, it is elevated to an at least somewhat passable level by the calibre of talent involved. Director Joel Shumacher (Batman & Robin, Tigerland) stages the action competently and doesn't let the actors get swallowed by the mayhem. For their part, Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock have shockingly good chemistry together. They're about as odd a couple as you're likely to find this side of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Both are skilled enough actors to make the connection the film desperately needs. Hopkins, in particular, is good. I never would have expected to see the Oscar-winning actor in a formulaic Jerry Bruckheimer action movie, but here he is, turning in a solid performance.

I just wish the screenplay hadn't tried to force in so much lame humor (for instance, during a car chase/shoot out, Rock laments that he just wants to go home and "watch Oprah!"). It doesn't know whether it wants to be an action movie or a comedy, so it attempts to sandwich everything it can onto the screen. I also wish that the movie had at least tried to bring something - anything - original to a plot that's a day older than dirt. And I wish that the grand finale, involving a nuclear bomb potentially being detonated in New York City, didn't make me feel so uncomfortable.

Maybe I would have liked this film better ten years ago, when the world was a much more innocent place and when mixed-race action/buddy movies were simply stale instead of downright moldy. In June of 2002, though, I can only walk away wondering why Hopkins, Rock, and Shumacher chose to elevate an unworthy picture instead of teaming up to make something more fun or ambitious than Bad Company.

( 1/2 out of four)

Bad Company is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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