'Bad Company': Old Guys Rock!

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 7, 2002

The news in "Bad Company" isn't that Chris Rock talks smack but that Anthony Hopkins kicks butt.

It's as if the distinguished British actor has been so thoroughly creeped out by his own mythic perversity in the Hannibal-the-Cannibal films -- he's now making a third one, "Red Dragon" -- that he decided to take a vacation in the wide-open spaces of an American action pic.

There, at age 64, he gets to do all those cool American things: shoot or beat up bad guys; drive fancy cars fast in pursuit of, or to get away from, other fancy cars driven fast; cop an attitude toward a stupid supervisor; help save the world; and, most important, wear a baseball cap and chew a toothpick.

If Sir Anthony is the new Arnold Schwarzenegger, that information carries the higher truth that "Bad Company" is nine parts genre staple to one part Chris Rock comedy. Oh, Rock is there all right, if just barely, but it seems that nobody involved with the making of "Bad Company" paid much attention to him. When it comes to delivering on the excellent premise of the trailers -- a brother from the streets gets down in the whiter-than-rice culture of the CIA -- the movie is a disappointment, and Rock, surely as amusing a comic presence as anybody working today, is given short shrift. Meanwhile, Sir Anthony of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he must have taken the famed RADA course "Close-Quarters Battle Drill With the Submachine Gun," is going to town.

Brrrrrrrp! quoth the acting sir, with his tiny German wundergun, followed by bap!bap!bap! when he switches to pistols and thunk! whap! grunch! when he smashes fists against various Slavic types in need of shaves and better agents. Those Brits! So much versatility!

As the movie has it, Hopkins is a jaded CIA case officer not so old that he doesn't occasionally go operational. He has been running the brilliant young agent Kevin Pope (Rock) through a complex scam in Prague aimed at procuring a stolen suitcase nuke from an ex-KGB goon (Peter Stormare, who was so much better when he didn't talk in "Fargo"). But a rival bidder for the bomb ambushes the CIA team, and Kevin is killed.

It turns out -- I hate it when this happens! -- Kevin had an unknown twin brother, raised in another family, who must be recruited, forcibly if necessary, and trained within nine days. Jake Hayes (Rock again) is everything the slick, Harvard-educated Kevin was not, and nothing that he was. He's got attitude, moves, sass and no interest in larger entities like the nation. He burns with furious resentment even as he shines with the gift of glib, and he routinely six-move-checkmates his opponents in chess-for-cash games in the park. A small-time street hustler, he sees no percentage in hustling for the Man, especially when the opposition kills folks.

You might look for a metaphorical social overlay: Symbolically, Jake is being weaned from black culture into the wider, multicultural America. He's learning to commit to the larger; he's learning that we are truly all in this together, and sometimes you gotta do what the Man says, particularly when the Man says, hey, keep a stolen nuke from going off in Grand Central Station.

But it's as if that theme scares the heretofore and forever-after lightweight director Joel Schumacher, and he wants as little to do with it as possible. Or maybe it's the influence of the blastmaster Jerry Bruckheimer, who never produced a movie that didn't have at least leventy-lebin 'splosions in it. Whatever, the movie is more a gunfest than a Rock concert.

Though not great, it's actually a little better than the dim "Sum of All Fears" currently flattening Baltimore in theaters across the nation. That film, with its shameless groveling before the altar of impetuous youth, is really an age hustle. Old guys bad, young guys good, as a way of shaking money out of the pockets of young guys.

But "Bad Company" -- totally unrelated, by the way, to either the British rock group or the 1972 western -- walks the other side of that street: It's discreetly an endorsement of the cult of expertise. The old guy, Hopkins, knows what the hell he's doing, and only in finally submitting to him does Rock's Jake become the Man himself. That's a theme that was old when John Wayne was young and at its peak when John Wayne was old, and here it's unfurled in all its creaky glory.

In some other respects, the film sometimes falls down hard. Schumacher, as he proved in his two "Batman" forays, is not the world's best action director, so a few of the chases and fights (there are many) play flat; even when they don't, they're pretty routine. In fact, the milieu is routine: A lot of what goes on is sheer set dressing -- the movie is full of computer gizmos, people talking into throat mikes, hard-looking Kevlar-helmeted dudes with fancy black guns with scopes, and a lot of techno-jargon, most of it meaningless.

Then there's the ending, or rather the three endings, as the film, which checks in at almost two hours, just keeps going on and on and on. And I think the filmmakers make a big mistake at the three-quarters mark when they blow away all the bad guys we've grown to hate and replace them with folks we've never seen before and don't really care about.

But Anthony Hopkins, with a toothpick and a slouch. Fabulous!

BAD COMPANY (PG-13, 110 minutes) ¿ Contains sexual innuendo and extravagant but bloodless gunfights. At area theaters.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company