Dir: Joel Schumacher. US. 2002. 111 mins.

Given producer Jerry Bruckheimer's track record with odd-couple action movies (Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys, Enemy Of The State), and the promising pairing of Anthony Hopkins with Chris Rock, action comedy Bad Company could hardly be a better proposition or a bigger disappointment. Initial box office prospects look reasonably good: Buena Vista opens the film this week in the US against little immediate competition and in the international marketplace the marquee names - Hopkins' and Bruckheimer's particularly, and to a lesser extent Rock's and director Joel Schumacher's - should attract a male-skewed but relatively broad audience. However, with its standard issue action, weak comedy and unconvincing drama, Bad Company is likely to wear out its welcome pretty quickly in the crowded and demanding summer season.

A plot hinging on a nuclear terrorism threat to New York City caused the postponement of the film's planned US release last Christmas. But only the most sensitive post-September 11 moviegoers will be upset by this unlikely story, whose wobbly dramatic logic perhaps betrays the project's long development history.

Hopkins' Gaylord Oakes is a CIA veteran who has been working undercover with young agent Kevin Pope (Rock) to buy a suitcase-sized nuclear weapon from a Prague arms dealer (Stormare) before the bomb falls into the wrong hands. When his partner is killed on the eve of the big deal, Oakes locates Pope's separated-at-birth twin, New York hustler Jake (Rock). The Agency's desperate plan is to groom the streetwise but unpolished Jake to stand in for his sophisticated spy brother. The spanner in the works is an East European terrorist who steals the bomb, kidnaps Jake's girlfriend and attempts to detonate the device in the heart of New York.

For Schumacher, Bad Company represents a return to big-budget mainstream filmmaking after the detour of smaller-scale military drama Tigerland. Putting the director of A Time To Kill and Batman Forever in charge of his first comedy actioner seems like an interesting move. But the Bad Company script, by Jason Richman (his first produced screenplay) and Michael Browning (Six Days, Seven Nights), gives Schumacher's talent for character and slick drama little to work on. While he does a competent enough job with the action, the film has nothing to compare to the high intensity thrills usually delivered under the Bruckheimer banner.

Where the director's skills are most evident are in the film's sleek, handsome look (yet another Bruckheimer trademark). With the help of cinematographer Dariusz A Wolski (The Mexican, Crimson Tide) and production designer Jan Roelfs (best known for his work with Peter Greenaway), Schumacher makes attractive and effective use of some atmospheric Prague locations.

The script, however, doesn't do the performers many favours. None too believable as a cool, confident CIA operative, Rock (whose feature work up to now has been mostly in playful or incidental roles) looks lost during the more dramatic moments. And, surprisingly, the film gives him only a couple of opportunities to let his manic - and often very funny - stand-up comedy persona show through.

Hopkins (whose only previous flirtation with this kind of buddy action was in international hit The Mask Of Zorro) plays it dead straight as the tough-minded but decent Oakes. His straight-man performance might have worked had the script given him more effective comedy to play against. As a duo, Hopkins and Rock make for an enticing one-sheet poster - but on screen they don't generate the sort sparks produced for Bruckheimer by the likes of Nolte and Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop) or Hackman and Smith (Enemy Of The State).

Prod cos: Touchstone Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
Dist: Buena Vista
Prods: Jerry Bruckheimer, Mike Stenson.
Exec prods: Chad Oman, Clayton Townsend, Larry Simpson, Gary Goodman.
Scr: Jason Richman, Michael Browning.
Story: Gary Goodman, David Himmelstein.
Director of Photography: Dariusz A Wolski.
Prod des: Jan Roelfs.
Ed: Mark Goldblatt.
Costume des: Beatrix Pasztor.
Music: Trevor Rabin.
Main cast: Anthony Hopkins, Chris Rock, Matthew Marsh, Gabriel Macht, Kerry Washington.