Bad Guys is a visually interesting crime drama that could have been much more effective then it ends up being. It's overly talky, and has widely varying performances, but holds its own moderately well.
The film, which plays out somewhat out of order via numerous flashbacks, starts with four disparate criminals arriving at a prearranged hideout after a drug deal, which has gone awry. The four are Zena (Kate del Castillo), a disbarred criminal attorney; Ashley (Danny Strong) an always high med student and amateur chemist; Shep (Art LaFleur) a disgraced cop; and Eddie (Sherman Augustus) a mid-level drug dealer. At the aforementioned drug deal, Eddie inexplicably started shooting everyone, including their connection Roland, a/k/a the Big Black Jap (Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson) an American black man who had joined the yakuza. The four had planned to buy a large amount of heroin from Roland and from it manufacture a designer drug that Ashley had come up with, essentially ecstasy without any negative side effects.
The four never really function as an integrated team. Their only connection is Zena herself, who acted as the lawyer for the other three before her disbarment, getting them each a not guilty verdict, when they were clearly guilty of their crimes. Their internecine conflicts and power jockeying take up the majority of the screen time. The deal was supposed to be an easy cash cow, making a nice profit with Ashley's cheap designer drug, until the complications set in. First is Eddie's gunplay at the deal itself, then some unexpected side effects (meaning death) from the drug, and finally the arrival in town of Leroy, Roland's twin brother, who is bent on revenge. Tensions mount, and tempers flare, leading ineluctably to the bloody climax.
Bad Guys contains the germ of a good idea, if one that has been executed many times before. Throw a group of violent criminals in a room, add conflict and suspicion, sit back and watch. This can be a rich vein of material to exploit. Unfortunately, Bad Guys misses the target as much as it hits. To begin with, the film is much too dialogue heavy. Abundant dialogue can be quite entertaining, if it is powerful, compelling and provides its own objective value, even though it might not move the plot along as such. Here, the dialogue is repetitive and, though competent, not quite up to the task of carrying a scene on its own. For instance, in the first scene where Zena is asking Eddie to explain why he shot Roland, all four of the conspirators talk themselves in circles, needlessly dancing around the point, before Eddie finally offers a half hearted explanation. It's not necessary to spend so much time on this. What was learned about the characters could have been imparted much more efficiently, while still getting across the necessary plot points. This kind of over-loquacity runs throughout the film, with characters using fifty words when ten would suffice.
On the other hand, several of the performances are quite nice, though Kate del Castillo as Zena comes across a bit strained and overwrought. Sherman Augustus as Eddie projects an easy confidence, clearly enjoying himself and effortlessly sinking into the role as the sarcastic drug dealer. Art LaFleur as Shep is also pretty good, especially considering that he came to the role at the last minute, after shooting on the film had already started. The rest of the cast is passable, doing what needs to be done, and little more. These two rise above the constraints of their environment, and give graceful, nuanced performances.
The film looks good as well. Director Rick Jacobson works well with his limited resources. The sets, makeup, etc. are all top notch, and combine with the fluid, well thought out camera work to make Bad Guys look like a film with greater resources than it had.
In the end, though, the pluses and minuses cancel each other out, and we are left with a movie that is merely average. With some judicious tightening of the script, and a reigning in of del Castillo's performance, Bad Guys could have been a darkly comic crime masterpiece. As it is, it's watchable but not exceptional.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and aside from some graininess, looks good. The colors are muted, and the shadows are strong, and everything has a cool, noir grittiness to it.
The sound is presented in Dolby 2 channel, and does the job but is not outstanding. The dialogue is always plainly audible, and no hiss or interference can be heard. There is one moment of dialogue skipping, but this is fleeting. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are available.
There are a few extras included on the disc. They are:
Behind the Scenes
This is a seventeen minute long behind the scenes featurette. There are interviews with writer Timothy Cogshell, who takes pains to point out that Bad Guys was written before Reservoir Dogs (which Bad Guys superficially resembles) was made, as well as interviews with Rick Jacobsen the director, and most of the cast. It's moderately interesting, but doesn't delve very deeply.
Bad Guys Theatrical Trailer
Clocking in at exactly one minute, this is your standard film trailer. Nothing special.
Also included are trailers for The Line, The Ministers, Casi Divas, Sleep Dealer and Bajo La Sal.
Bad Guys is a film that has great potential, which it only partially lives up to. A gritty, stylish look, and a few great performances (particularly that of Sherman Augustus) can't overcome the overly talky script and those other performances which are less than exceptional. While there is significant merit here, it doesn't excel in the way that low budget films need to do in order to break out from the crowd. Rent this one.