Dir: Michael Bay. US. 2003. 147 mins.

Finally reuniting stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence with director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the big budget sequel to unassuming 1995 action comedy Bad Boys is the kind of juggernaut we've come to expect from Bruckheimer and Bay since they first collaborated on the original film: it's overlong, overwritten and, especially where effects-enhanced action is concerned, gleefully over the top whenever it gets the chance. With Smith and Lawrence now established draws, Bad Boys 2 will quickly outperform the original, which took $66m at the US box office and $75m overseas. After that, Sony will have to hope that this summer's unpredictable US audience revels in the impressive old school action and overlooks the rambling plot and patchy comedy. International results could well top domestic, as has been the case with all of Bruckheimer and Bay's hugely successful subsequent collaborations (The Rock, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor).

Presumably with an eye to boosting the sequel's international appeal, early versions of the script are said to have taken Miami cops Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) to Europe. Numerous writers later, however, the final version, credited to Ron Shelton (White Men Can't Jump) and Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight), keeps the boys on their home turf and puts them in a scenario not too dissimilar to that of the first film.

When a police operation on the Florida coastline fails to turn up the massive haul of Ecstasy promised by Lowrey and Burnett, the boys are instructed by their harried captain (Pantoliano, also returning from the first film) to do whatever it takes to locate the missing drugs. Standing in the boys' way is a parade of villains including Haitian rastas, Russian mobsters and Johnny Tapia (Spanish star Molla, from Blow and Segunda Piel), one very nasty Cuban drug lord.

The boys' characters at least get something of an update. Stressed-out family man Marcus is now on an anger management kick and is even considering a transfer to a quieter job. Swinging bachelor Mike, meanwhile, is secretly dating Marcus' sister Syd (Union, from Cradle 2 The Grave), an undercover DEA agent who happens to be trying to infiltrate the same drug trafficking operation.

The two-and-a-half hour running time allows plenty of room for plot as well as action, but the film loses dramatic focus for significant chunks of time before another action scene reclaims audience attention. The multitude of villains, for example, makes for some confusing moments and gratuitous scenes and plot threads like Mike's relationship with Syd disappear completely for long stretches.

Mike and Marcus still have the habit of arguing at the most inopportune moments, but their banter isn't as organic or as funny as it was in the first film (which apparently included a lot of improvisation between Smith and Lawrence). Instead, the humour here comes out in what feel almost like designated scenes. The most effective are a darkish comedy bit when Mike and Marcus have to probe cadavers in the mortuary and a goofy physical routine from Lawrence when Marcus accidentally takes some of the Ecstasy.

The film's young male core audience, of course, will care most about the action. And the action does live up to the standards of the Bruckheimer-Bay brand.

The opening drug bust sequence includes a funny entrance for Smith and Lawrence and the first of the film's several slo-mo body-piercing bullet shots. The most memorable action sequence comes early on, in the form of a spectacularly destructive car chase - 22 cars and one boat totaled, the film itself boasts - thrillingly shot from the point of view of Mike and Marcus' pursuing car.

The big closing, which has the cops attacking Tapia's mansion in Cuba, feels tacked on and is more conventionally explosive. But it is capped by a nicely staged showdown set at the Guantanamo Bay US military base.

Mixed in with the action is some cartoonish but nevertheless quite grisly violence that has earned Bad Boys 2 an R rating in the US. The rating - and the decisions of other classification boards around the world - could limit the film's ability to pull in the teen males who know the original because of its enduring popularity on video.

Prod cos: Columbia Pictures, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
Dist: Columbia.
Prod: Jerry Bruckheimer.
Exec prods: Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Barry Waldman.
Scr: Ron Shelton, Jerry Stahl.
DoP: Amir Mokri.
Prod des: Dominic Watkins.
Eds: Mark Goldblatt, Thomas A Muldoon, Roger Barton.
Music: Trevor Rabin.
Main cast: Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Gabrielle Union, Jordi Molla, Peter Stormare, Theresa Randle, Joe Pantoliano.