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[Times photo: Touchstone Pictures]
In Bad Company, savvy spies Oakes (Anthony Hopkins, left) and Seale (Gabriel Macht, center) recruit a streetwise ticket scalper (Chris Rock, right) to fill in for his twin brother, a murdered CIA agent.
By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 6, 2002
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Bad Company is a Chris Rock-Anthony Hopkins movie that sounds like a good idea but doesn't get further than that.
Pairing urban Chris Rock with urbane Anthony Hopkins sounds like a mismatch made in heaven. Such good company deserves a better script than Bad Company.
Hopkins' wry enunciation is a nice counterpoint to Rock's flippant urgency, a contrast of culture and comedy that was good enough to sell Touchstone Pictures on the project. A lot of movies are made this way, with ideas that begin and end with the casting. The result is appealing enough to bring folks into theaters and mediocre enough to make them wonder why they bothered.
Bad Company is essentially a twist on Trading Places, filtered through the slam-bang sensibilities of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who apparently hasn't gone completely legit after Black Hawk Down and Remember the Titans revealed an artistic side.
Rock has the Eddie Murphy role, a streetwise ticket scalper named Jake Hayes who plays speed chess to let us know he's also smart. Hopkins is the uptight Dan Aykroyd type, CIA agent Gaylord Oakes overseeing Jake's indoctrination into the agency. Jake's twin brother (also played by Rock) was smarter, smoother and by the book, but he's also dead, days before a nuclear arms deal is going down. Oakes needs Jake's likeness for the case -- and everything else about him like a hole in the head.
That's about as far as the pitch to Bruckheimer went, and as far as screenwriters Jason Richman and Michael Browning take it. Bad Company has a few instances of genuine humor: Jake's crash course in the Czech language is silly enough. An Air Supply musical gag is nice. And Rock's throwaway lines sound like a sharp mind improvising to help a crippled script. Hopkins' slow burns and eloquent put-downs are amusing. The Pygmalion angle offers the movie's best material, but director Joel Schumacher gums up the comedic works with typical skulk-and-dagger mechanics stopping just shy of the old blue-wire-or-red-wire cliche.
But the film's main glitch is that Rock must subdue his madcap energy for much of the movie, first as the straight-laced agent, then as his brother imitating him. If he breaks out of that etiquette, Jake's cover will be blown. This turns Rock into just another action figure, not the subversive force of human nature he can be. He still finds a few laughs in Schumacher's schlock, but Rock should be keeping better company.