While Sean Penn's star was on the rise in 1983, thanks to the success of Fast Times At Ridgemont High a year prior, it was Rick Rosenthal's Bad Boys that really got people to stand up and take notice of his ability as an actor. Written by Richard Di Lello (who would write Colors a few years later, another picture which Penn won quite a bit of deserved acclaim for), it's a gritty, starkly realistic picture that let the up and coming actor show the world what he could do when given strong material.
When the film begins, we meet two Chicago thugs: the first is Mick O'Brien (Penn), a small time thief working his way through the streets and the second a drug dealer named Paco Moreno (Esai Morales). O'Brien and his guys aren't very friendly with Paco but neither party gets along very well with the gang of black guys also looking to claim the turf as their own. Tensions soon rise between the three parties and before you know it, Mick is locked up for accidently killing Paco's younger brother and he's shipped off to a juvenile detention center.
Once inside, Mick goes through a bit of culture shock as life on the inside is very different and much scarier than even the mean streets of the city where he grew up. He starts to crawl inside himself and shut out as much of this new world as he can, but eventually starts coming out of his shell when confronted by various other inmates. As Mick starts to adjust, he becomes closer with the social worker assigned to his case, Ramon Herrera (Reni Santoni) and his cell mate, a young Jewish kid named Horowitz (Eric Gurry). Ramon feels that Mick isn't so far gone that he can't be saved, but bad things start happening on the outside when Paco decides to get revenge on Mick by taking things out on his girlfriend, JC Walenski (Ally Sheedy), a desperate act that brings things full circle when Paco finds himself locked up inside the same prison Mick was sent to.
While the script doesn't spend as much time dealing with the origins of Mick's character or explaining to us why he is the way he is but we're given enough to at least be able to latch onto his character a bit. He's certainly no saint, we know this from the opening moments of the film but we are able to get inside his head enough to understand why Ramon would at least want to try and get him on the straight and narrow rather than chalk him up as another lost cause. It's Penn's performance that really makes Mick more than just another bad guy on the wrong side of the tracks, a character rehashed over and over throughout cinema and particularly popular in the juvenile delinquent movies of the fifties and sixties. While there are a few emotionally contrived moments here and there, you only rarely get the sense that anyone here is acting. The cast as a whole turn in excellent work and while Penn deservedly gets most of the recognition any time this film comes up, it would be unfair to talk about the movie without giving credit to both Santoni and Morales, both of whom are almost as good as Penn in their respective roles.
Director Rick Rosenthal, who had done a sequel to John Carpenter's original Halloween and worked on some television projects before shooting this picture, keeps the pace movingly nicely in the picture without rushing things. The cinematography by Bruce Surtees and Donald Thorin does an excellent job of replicating the danger inherent in street life and also in establishing the sense of claustrophobia that has to come with incarceration. The movie's look is appropriately gritty and it helps give the film a very stark vibe. Along the way it makes some interesting statements about the penal system by approaching the subject with maturity and an understanding sense of reality.
Bad Boys arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation that looks pretty good when you take into account the film's intentionally grainy and gritty tone and texture. The image isn't pristine, but it isn't meant to be, instead it's got a slightly seedy and soiled look to it that does a fine job of complimenting the toughness of the shooting style. The film's style suits the story quite well, and if you won't be consistently floored by the detail, you'll certainly notice that this Blu-ray disc offers quite a strong upgrade to the standard definition release. There's a lot of softness throughout the film but that's how the film was shot. Color reproduction is maybe a little bit on the flat side but black levels are generally pretty good. If this doesn't compete with more modern, big budget blockbuster films it still looks quite good for what it is - save for the fact t hat some obvious noise reduction has been applied in some scenes. This was likely done to combat some of the grain but it has come at the cost of some detail and results in a few scenes with noticeably waxy skin tones.
The sole audio option on this release is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 track that comes with optional subtitles in Spanish, English and English SDH. While a 5.1 track might have helped make a few key scenes a bit more involving than they are, the 2.0 mix that's on this disc gets the job done well enough. Dialogue is always easy to understand the levels are well balanced. There's considerably more punch here than on the standard definition release, so again, we get a marginal upgrade, and there are no problems with any obvious hiss or distortion to complain about. The audio probably could have been more impressive than it is, but what's here works well enough.
The only extra of much substance is the commentary track with director Richard Rosenthal, who speaks in quite a bit of detail about putting this picture together and about the cast and crew who worked on it with him. It's interesting to get his input on what it was like working with Sean Penn during this early stage of his career considering some of the controversy he wound up in and considering how he'd wind up becoming such a well respected actor with a bit more experience under his belt. It's a solid track, well paced and approached with a very down to earth attitude. If he occasionally simply tells us what we're seeing on the screen, that's fine, as it doesn't happen very often and the bulk of the track is quite informative.
Aside from that, Lionsgate has supplied the film's original theatrical trailer, promos for a few other Lionsgate properties, menus and chapter selection for the feature.
Bad Boys won't have audio or videophiles jumping for joy but the commentary is a good one and the Blu-ray disc does offer a modest upgrade from the DVD release. The film itself holds up very well as a tense and dramatic picture with some strong direction and even stronger acting. The picture was a big deal at the time and it helped make Sean Penn a star - with good reason, he's excellent here and the film, overall, is absolutely worth revisiting. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.