The Bad Guys (2022)
Good is no fun at all.
As an educator working in a school, it’s hard not to be familiar with (or have at least heard of) The Bad Guys, the New York Times best-selling book series from Australian author-illustrator Aaron Blabey. Maybe it’s the cool cover art by Blabey — an image of a wolf, shark, snake, and a piranha all dressed in black suits, lined up against an orange backdrop, comes to mind. Or it could be its zany premise, which revolves around inherently ‘bad’ animals going against their wicked nature to change others’ perceptions of them, despite their efforts constantly going pear-shaped. For whatever reason, something’s struck a chord with young (pre-teen) readers, making the illustrated children’s graphic novels a favorite within their demographic.
Given its worldwide success, it was only a matter of time until a studio snapped up the property and developed a Bad Guys movie. That studio is DreamWorks Animation, and the director at the helm is French Pierre Perifel; fine choices indeed, as Perifel has crafted a crackerjack caper that’ll appeal to a wide range of audiences — think Ocean’s Eleven (2001) meets Manga series Lupin the 3rd. The film’s got heists, hoodwinks and hijinks, and a giant meteorite that looks like a butt. What more could audiences want?
Set in a sun-kissed Los Angeles where anthropomorphic animals and human citizens somehow coexist, the film centers on five notorious friends, known simply as ‘the bad guys.’ There’s confident pickpocket Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell); slithery safecracker Mr. Snake (Marc Maron); the Great White master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson); fiery “muscle” Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos); and sassy tech specialist/ expert hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina).
After years of being the world’s most wanted felons and evading capture from the Police Chief, Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein), the bad guys are eventually apprehended at a charity gala when they’re trying to steal The Golden Dolphin, an Oscars-type trophy that the city is presenting to the recipient of the Good Samaritan Award, an arrogant do-gooder guinea pig named Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade). However, instead of being locked up, the charming Mr. Wolf coerces the governor, Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), into giving them one chance to prove that they can be rehabilitated and use their skills for good instead of terrorizing the city, seeing as they’ve lived their lives embracing their ‘badness’ because people are generally afraid of them.
Now, under the guidance of their new mentor Professor Marmalade, the predatory animals must trick the world into thinking that they’ve reformed. However, during the training, Mr. Wolf begins to realize that doing the right thing might actually give him something he’s secretly always longed for: to be liked and accepted. So, when a new threat emerges, Mr. Wolf must try to persuade the rest of his unruly band to join the right side of the law and become real good guys.
Written by Etan Cohen, Men in Black 3 (2012), who has fun with the crime caper concept, The Bad Guys really amps up the adrenaline and suspense — there’s tons of frantic action for a kid’s flick, albeit cartoony. When our characters aren’t speeding through the city doing dastardly deeds or being chased by a swarm of red and blue sirens, the screenplay looks at friendship, acceptance, and never judging a book by its cover, themes that are sure to resonate with youngsters and mature viewers alike. Yes, the narrative is predictable in parts (you can probably guess who the villain is by simply reading a few plot outlines), but there are so many exciting twists, turns, and double-crosses along the way, it’s hard to really notice. We’re also treated to a jazzy musical number that really sticks out, ‘Good Tonight,’ performed by Daniel Pemberton and actor Ramos. On top of all this, there’s tons of slapstick humor, fart jokes, and some sharp cultural references and visual gags (think Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing).
The Bad Guys stands as a strong feature film debut for director Pierre Perifel, who imbeds the proceedings with high-octane energy and a surprising amount of heart. In terms of art and design, The Bad Guys has a unique visual flair — a sketchy, stylized mix of 2D and 3D animation. The artwork has an illustrative quality about it (an old-school-meets-new-school kind of feel), reminiscent of its paperback origins. Moreover, animators have authentically captured L.A.; the city and locations feel genuine. Audiences also get to hang out with a host of delightful, well-rounded characters, with each of their designs being both arresting and clever. Mr. Snake, for instance, is a riff on antihero Raoul Duke (played by Johnny Depp) from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998).
When it comes to voice work, Sam Rockwell, Moon (2009), is effortlessly cool as the charismatic Mr. Wolf, who’s played here like a cross between George Clooney and Steve McQueen; Rockwell nails the harder edges of the Big Bad Wolf, along with his softer, more caring side. Both Anthony Ramos, Trolls World Tour (2020), and Craig Robinson, Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), are memorable as the fiendish fish, the crazy Mr. Piranha, and the group’s gentle giant, Mr. Shark. The vocal highlights, however, are Marc Maron, GLOW (2017-19), who portrays the pessimistic Mr. Snake, the most rigid member of the group, an ill-tempered bad guy who’s constantly got his guard up; and Zazie Beetz, Deadpool 2 (2018), as the enigmatic fox Governor Diane Foxington, who turns out to be quite a pivotal player. It’s Beetz’ Foxington who ultimately gets the group to realize that we’ve all got shades of good and bad inside of us, yet we’re the ones who get to choose our own narratives and divert from the paths that others may expect us to travel.
While nobody’s reinventing the wheel here, The Bad Guys does enough good. Perifel and the Dreamworks creative team have fashioned a thrilling, frantic family entertainer, one that’s populated with memorable characters and tells a worthwhile story that’ll resonate with grown-ups and children. The film explodes with all-ages laughs, surprises, and kid-friendly action. Honestly, I had a great time with it. There’s hardly a dull moment. In short, The Bad Guys is a good time! Jump on it.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Stu Cachia (S-Littner)