That beeping sound you hear just before Bad Boys II starts isn't some technical hitch. It's the dumper truck, driven by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, backing up to Michael Bay's desk and unloading the Gross National Product of Slovakia. Clearly, director Bay pocketed the cash, dashed straight past Decent Scriptwriting Inc and headed directly into Explosions R Us. The money's all up there on the screen, only most of it soon flies off in a shower of flame and rubble.
Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are chasing down a drug dealer who's smuggling his ecstasy into the country via a mortuary. While investigating (read: killing henchmen in a series of ultra-destructive car chases), the pair discover that Marcus' sexy sis Syd (Gabrielle Union) is working undercover for their quarry. Tricky situation - made doubly so by the fact that Syd's shagging Mike behind her over-protective brother's back.
All of which is really just an excuse for the titular cops to shoot guns, trade insults and frustrate their boss (Joe Pantoliano). Fine. Or it would be if all the action bolted onto this wobbly narrative frame didn't come straight from the school of lazy sequels. You know, the one with diplomas marked More Of The Same. Yes, there are some breath-snatching stunts on show here, from the Matrix-matching highway chase (Smith and Lawrence's speeding auto dodging cars thrown from a transporter truck) to the delirious 360-degree pan around a frantic shoot-out. They'll thrill, but they won't solve the movie's biggest problem - director overload.
No doubting that Bay knows how to graft together a set-piece. It's just that once he finds something he likes, he won't let go. So be prepared to sit through another highway chase, almost identical but with spilled corpses replacing spilled cars. And, despite Bay's protestations that Pearl Harbor signalled his move into more substantive filmmaking, here he's reset his targets to match those he was aiming at almost a decade ago. One or two startling CG shots aside, Boys II could have been made eight months after the first movie, let alone eight years. And it's not just the explosions, either - even the ecstasy-smuggling plot and Lawrence's New Age obsession feels faintly stale.
Still, one vital component is all the better for not having moved: the wisecracks. Okay, so some of the boys' quick-fire banter is worryingly homophobic, adding to the discomfort of the almost orgiastic violence, but it's the pair's ceaseless gaggery that raises the watchability. Teamed with Big Willie, even Martin soddin' Lawrence is funny.
Bad Boys II does not reinvent the action film. It repeats it. But if you came out of the original wanting an extra two hours, step up and have a blast. Just don't expect to have quite as much fun as Michael Bay did when he made it...