Squandering a premise that seems ripe for fun and laughter, "The Bad Guys" is about as bad as you can get.
Yes, kids for the most part will watch anything. But don't they - and we adults - deserve more than uninspired, generic dreck?
"The Bad Guys" is loosely based on a series of popular children's books by Aaron Blabey. The idea is that a group of villains - aka bad guys - finally get caught during a heist that goes awry, so in order to avoid a harsh consequence for their actions, they attempt to "go good." Or as the Big Bad Wolf (voiced by a seemingly sedated Sam Rockwell) explains it in the film, "The bad guys become the good guys, so we can stay the bad guys."
Each of the members of the gang have a specific skill set, with Mr. Wolf being their charming and charismatic leader. There's Mr. Snake (Mark Maron), who excels at cracking safes, there's Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina) the computer hacker, Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) the master of disguise, and Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos) whose crazy, brute strength is matched only by his appalling farts...gas so bad that it sends green clouds throughout the vicinity and - you guessed it - is supposed to be funny.
Right from the start, the tone feels off. A movie about bad guys going good could have gone in hundreds of interesting directions, with several life-lessons available for the choosing and tons of fodder for kids and grown-ups alike. Which is why it's actually quite impressive that the direction that "The Bad Guys" settles on goes in zero of them.
Mr. Wolf has eyes for one of the "good guys" hunting him down, the coy Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz). A crazed police chief (Alex Borstein) has devoted her life to tracking these criminals down. A famous hamster (Richard Ayoade) is tasked with helping the bad guys turn good. All of these three authority figures end up being terrible representations, and supply zero in the way of laughs or personality to the film.
Perhaps the blame lies with first-time director, Pierre Perifel, who has worked on other animated films like "Kung Fu Panda," "Shrek Ever After" and "Rise of the Guardians," but who has never helmed a complete film. Maybe it's because of the main credited screenwriter, Etan Cohen, who back in the day penned a few hits with "Tropic Thunder" and "Idiocracy" but whose recent work includes "Men in Black 3," "Get Hard" and the putrid "Holmes & Watson."
There's always push-back when it comes to family films, especially of the animated variety. But there's a simple goal in mind when watching this genre of film: Is it entertaining? A bonus if it's funny for adults as well as children. And if you're really lucky, some nice kid-friendly insights on life and/or the human condition can be arrived upon.
"The Bad Guys" strikes out. While the animation is slick, only about half of the voices feel like good fits (Ramos and Awkwafina, specifically, seemed to actually bring something to their characters). The situations are lame and there isn't a laugh to be had. Sure, there are a few fleeting moments where you might see something clever, but mostly you notice this only when a joke or a scene flops, when it's evident that another missed opportunity has occurred.
It feels like low-hanging fruit to criticize an animated film for a flimsy, uninspired and unimaginative plot...but why is this? Why is the bar set so low? We don't lower our standards for our children when it comes to nutrition, or anything else, but it's OK to do so when it comes to the movies they watch? Because kids will watch anything, we should show them anything?
Am I being too harsh? I felt nothing but joylessness watching "The Bad Guys," a movie that I was actually super-excited for and had high hopes for. It was draining. My five-year-old, the son of a film critic who ironically and tragically does not like movies all that much - yet - was counting down the days to see this film. He is obsessed with bad guys - not necessarily these bad guys, but just bad guys in general (should I be worried?). He asked to leave the theater more than a few times. He was bored, and asked me, "Daddy, when does this movie end?"
Maybe he'll be a good judge of film after all.
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Family.
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Starring (voices of): Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beetz.
Based on the books by Aaron Blabey.
Directed by Pierre Perifel (feature-film directorial debut).
"The Bad Guys" is in theaters on Friday, April 22nd, 2022 and will be available to stream on Peacock 45 days afterwards.
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