What do you get when you mix the ugly streets of Chicago, youth gone wild and a break out performance by a talented actor at the beginning of his career? You get one of the best films on teenage delinquency and angst from a decade that specialized in such fare. While Sean Penn had been in a few roles before, this is really the first time he got to display some serious acting chops and it’s still great to go back and revisit that. But is Penn’s performance alone enough to carry this film nearly thirty years later? My review of Bad Boys after the jump.
Bad Boys tells the story of Mick O’Brien, a kid from the wrong-side of the tracks in Chicago, Illinois. When he’s not in school with his girlfriend, JC, (Ally Sheedy) Mick is busy snatching women’s purses at night and causing chaos within the community. Played by Penn, Mick is a lost soul in a lost world with no father figure to speak of and a mother too busy boozing it up with her latest boyfriend to be bothered.
Juxtaposed against this we are introduced to Paco Moreno (Esai Morales), another lost young man who lives at home with his mother and little brother but spends most of his time peddling dope and drugs on the streets. Like Mick, Paco’s home is missing a father figure and although his mother does her best to steer her son away from a life of crime, Paco is determined to “be his own man” and to have his own business. To make matters worse, Paco’s little brother looks up to him and is surely on his way to a life of crime as well. Shot on location in the dark and gritty streets of Chicago, Director Rick Rosenthal does a good job of showing us the world Mick and Paco inhabit.
These two lives are forever intertwined one fateful night when, after a drug deal gone bad, Mick ends up running over and killing Paco’s little brother as the police pursue him. Mick is sent to the Rainford Juvenile Correctional Facility, which proves to be just as violent and tough as the streets he comes from. It is soon apparent that a hierarchal order is in place, based on fear and intimidation. Viking Lofgren and “Tweety” dole out beatings and punishments to anyone that gets in their way or challenges them. As the new kid on the block, Mick is soon targeted by these two thugs but effectively holds them off with a beating administered by his own hands. Mick is now considered the “barn boss” or top dog by others in the facility. With this distinction, he gets privileges among the others to take a cut of cigarette sales, dole out work assignments, etc. We are introduced to a number of other characters in the day to day life of survival that is now Mick’s reality. Reni Santoni plays Ramon Herrera, one of the few facility guards who tries to steer Mick in the right direction by giving him advice to “stay cool” and showing him where he will end up if he doesn’t change things. It is a touching performance by Santoni and, ironically, the only real male authority figure to show any interest in Mick in this movie. Another memorable performance is that of Eric Gurry, who plays Mick’s cellmate, Horowitz. While small and feeble, it’s obvious Horowitz has not only acclimated to this way of life but is also quite adept at finding (and surviving) his way around it.
Meanwhile, back on the “outside” Paco plots his revenge the only way he knows how, through Mick’s girlfriend, JC. Paco proceeds to rape and beat her one night, is arrested and sent to the same juvenile facility where Mick is housed due to overcrowding at other facilities. Once Paco arrives, tension in the air is palatable with a slow, simmering brew taking hold between these two. For Paco, its revenge on the man who killed his little brother and for Mick, it’s seeing before his eyes the man who raped and beat the only thing he’s ever loved, his girlfriend. With “Tweety” no longer housed in the facility, Lofgren and Paco now team up and conspire as to who is going to “get O’Brien.” Both have vendettas against Mick but when Lofgren is subsequently injured by Horowtiz, the stage is now set for a showdown between Paco and Mick. Running interference amongst all this is Herrera and the rest of the facility guards who do their best to keep things under control.
Bad Boys ends with Mick sparing the life of Paco in a brutal fight between the two. This is significant as earlier in the movie Mick told Herrara that killing Paco’s little brother “was an accident.” While by no means an innocent, this act shows us that Mick is not a killer by nature.
Bad Boys is a gritty, no-holds barred look at juvenile delinquency and teen angst – a subject with a long history in the movies, harking back most notably to the 1950s with James Dean and company. Bad Boys manages to take things even further in its ability to portray its raw street life and oppressive nature. Due to his performance, many consider Bad Boys the break out role that defined Penn as the preeminent actor of his generation.
Bad Boys is presented in widescreen format and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with an audio commentary by Director Rick Rosenthal and contains a theatrical trailer. Like most movies of its era, Bad Boys is shot using soft photography and with the lack of 5.1 stereo surround, it’s hard to see or hear the advantages to this movie being presented on the Blu-ray format. Rosenthal’s commentary offers some interesting insight into working with a young Sean Penn and for that reason alone – Penn’s performance – I recommend picking up Bad Boys for another look.