- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

"Bad Company" finds Hollywood trifling with doomsday apprehension for a second consecutive weekend. The immediate danger zone shifts up the Eastern seaboard: New York City becomes the ultimate destination for a laptop nuclear device that the Central Intelligence Agency needs to wrest from the greedy clutches of rival Russian and Yugoslavian mobsters. These arrogant and largely unshaven bad guys seem to enjoy carte blanche when assaulting or abducting people in major cities, namely Prague and New York.
The crisis never gets serious enough to compete with the movie's predominantly humorous, pandering agenda, which is to celebrate the interracial odd coupling of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock.
Mr. Hopkins plays a veteran CIA agent with a sublimely posh name, Gaylord Oakes, a tribute, perhaps, to William Buckley's spy novels or just a desperate attempt to account for Mr. Hopkins' accent. Oakes is obliged to recruit Mr. Rock's character, a smarty-pants chess hustler and ticket scalper named Jake Hayes, on very short notice.
Jake, it seems, is the long-lost identical twin of CIA agent Kevin Pope, who perishes while partnered with Oakes in a delicate effort to purchase the nuke on the European market for weapons of mass destruction. Because Kevin's demise remains unknown outside "company" circles, a slim chance for success is predicated on Jake's ability to become such a quick study that he can deceive mere Eurotrash.
Given Jake's mandate to respond with sarcastic quips in every situation, if not every sentence, the pretense that something serious is at stake is always bogus at best. Passages that might be devoted to such character-intensive matters as perfecting Jake's masquerade or developing human-interest rapport with Oakes and one or two of the other agents, purportedly devoted to the late, lamented Kevin, are overlooked in favor of premature chases and assassination attempts.
A harebrained interlude in Prague trivializes the mission with a morbid-erotic sideshow. Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon as a CNN glamour puss named Nicole shows up as a dishy complication, intent on resuming a love affair with Kevin, not realizing that he is being impersonated by Jake. At the very least, it would seem prudent for someone to give Nicole the lowdown on the mission, not to mention the fate of her boyfriend.
A little safekeeping would appear to be in order, but Nicole is permitted to exit in high-tarty dudgeon, having served as a decorative excuse for killing time and tarnishing Mr. Rock's masquerade.
Just as "The Sum of All Fears" seemed to do more for Liev Schreiber as a subsidiary character than it did for the ostensible star, Ben Affleck, "Bad Company" may do more for Gabriel Macht, cast as an attractive and sometimes deadly agent named Seale, than for the mismatched buddies. Brooke Smith, prodigious last year in the low-budget stunner "Series 7," is wasted as the distaff member of the Oakes' team. This serves as another reminder of how little use mainstream Hollywood has for performers who can knock you out in witty roles on the independent circuit. I had the same sensation when Jane Lynch of "Best in Show" was squandered in a dinky role as a federal agent in "Hannibal." Maybe this kind of neglect is considered hip when Anthony Hopkins is a headliner.
At some point, Mr. Hopkins begins favoring toothpicks and chewing gum, although I'm not sure he can be detected exercising those props simultaneously. I must have missed a transition somewhere, because the initial character cliches appear to type Oakes as something of an elegant stuffed shirt and Hayes as the amusing, loosey-goosey vulgarian.
I was amused by the asking price for the purloined nuke: $20 million. By a strange coincidence, actors get to demand the identical figure when fortune elevates them to "superstar" status in Hollywood. A clever graduate student might be able to do something with either the aesthetics or economics of this telltale figure, formulating a thesis around the "subtext" of a movie that purports to be preoccupied with espionage while actually being preoccupied, a little too transparently, with asking prices in the entertainment business.
I also liked one voice-over utterance "CIA, coming through" when agents supposedly are pursuing bad guys among the rush-hour throng at Grand Central Station. If people start trying out this line while making real-life dashes for trains and planes, you'll know that they have fallen under the influence of "Bad Company."

*1/2
TITLE: "Bad Company"
RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity, graphic violence and sexual allusions)
CREDITS: Directed by Joel Schumacher. Screenplay by Jason Richman and Michael Browning; cinematography by Dariusz A. Wolski
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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