The Bad Guys

****

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Bad Guys
"A heist movie that should be given the chance to steal the attention of a variety of audiences."

The Bad Guys are a supergroup of swinging caper sensibilities, anthromorphised animals who bring a particular set of skills to bear. Based on a series of graphic novels for children, the film uses an established set of characters as a jumping off point for a heist movie that should be given the chance to steal the attention of a variety of audiences.

Sam Rockwell voices the Wolf (big, bad) and true to Sam Rockwell form there's a dance. Marc Maron is Snake whose appetite for the finer things includes other animals. Of guinea pigs he observes "you're eating pure goodness". Awkwafina is Ms. Tarantula, known as "Webs". This a change from the books where it's a Mr. Tarantula who goes by "Legs". She's the hacker, much like her turn in Ocean's 8 which doesn't seem an unfair comparison as at one point a strategy of seductive suavity is described as "going full Clooney". Craig Robinson voices Shark, a master of disguise despite being a Great White, it's a turn that effectively pre-dates Nanue/King Shark in The Suicide Squad, but it's of a similar comic ilk. The last is Anthony Ramos, who may be more famous for singing roles but here is more given to fury and flatulence than fast-rap and falsetto.

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Variously on the side of, and against our protagonists, two more furry creatures. Whatever the appropriately animalistic equivalent of 'humanitarian' is, Richard Ayoade as Professor Marmalade, and with statehouse solidity glamourous governor Zazie Beetz is Diane Foxington. Then there's Alex Borstein as Police Chief Misty Luggins, a human looking to stop The Bad Guys at every twist and turn.

In a film full of entertaining character design, there are all sorts of lovely notes. It starts with a version of the Dreamworks logo that swaps the fishing boy for the Wolf, there's something captivating about the often flatly-toned eyes of these digitally animated animals that I can't quite put my finger on (not being a contact lens wearer). There are a couple of points that had me grimacing a little. I won't fault a film aimed at children for foregrounding the moral lesson, but those not paying attention at the start might miss the importance of The Crimson Paw, and for all that I enjoyed the corkscrewing conspiracies I have the benefit of having seen this sort of film before and so had expectations as to what was going to happen. I did wince a little at Mother Theresa still being used as a paragon of goodness, but that only happened twice. It was outnumbered by the central cast wearing animal onesies, which might only have been for a "wolf in sheep's clothing" joke that was less telegraphed than written in letters ten feet tall, but it was also an opportunity to see an already somewhat adorable arachnid dressed as a raccoon. That one of several highlights of character and background detail, all part of great production design.

I'm really enamoured with the design language of SUCM, the 'Super Ultra Crazy Maximum' Security Prison Department. It's a certain industrial solidity, there's a van that's like the lovechild of a tumblehome dreadnought and a Transit, as bulbous as the pixel defying armour of the Fallout series. That's as nothing though to Wolf's car, which gets a separate design credit in the extensive end titles.

Damon Moran is an animator himself, there are galleries of his car designs online and Wolf's motor is a thing of late sixties early seventies cool. There are echoes of classic Japanese sports tourers like the original Skyline and Bluebird, and on the other side of the rainbow parts lifted straight from throaty American muscle and hot rods. The flares of the wheel arches speak to a period sensibility and I single out not just because I really liked it but because the car plays an important part in the film.

This is a heist movie, or at the very least a caper. It might swap a Maltese Falcon for a Golden Dolphin but it cleaves closely to the rules for the genre. It's got fart jokes, and a few comic reveals, but it's also got enough of an evolving moral compass as to compel. It opens with a car chase so complicated and well executed that when a birthday cake is delivered into the middle of it the question isn't "how?" but "why?". That chase has a Blues Brothers level of cop car carnage. It's one of several, and they all show a willingness to use the medium to great effect. They don't quite catch up to the delight that was Elastigirl's train pursuit in The Incredibles 2, but they're not far off, and there's more than one.

Similarly numerous, the writing department stretches past Aaron Blabey who wrote the original books and has a fair few acting credits to his name. They include the eponymous protagonist of Australian TV miniseries The Damnation of Harvey McHugh which featured bureaucratic chicanery and saw Harvey volunteered as a guinea pig for medical experiments. Here they're actually real guinea pigs, or at least animated guinea pigs that unlike Professor Marmalade don't wear suits and a cravat. Etan Cohen moved from episodes of King Of The Hill to Idiocracy before penning a couple of Will Ferrell comedy vehicles and Tropic Thunder. That "full [x]" might not be from there, but it certainly popularised it as a format. Hilary Winston has a similar number of TV sitcom credits, she also provided the story for The Lego Ninjago Movie which similarly found laughs for adults. Rounding out the team, Yoni Brenner has history with animal antics, writing for Rio 2 and the fifth Ice Age film, Collision Course. That last one also features an important asteroid, and that willingness to re-use is not a strike against The Bad Guys. If any of the comic works I've named above have provided a laugh, there's a strong chance that this film will too.

This is a d├ębut feature for director Pierre Perifel. He's got extensive animation experience. 2018 short Bilby was meant to be part of a larger work, and he's worked on most of the Kung Fu Panda films and was a lead character animator for North (Alec Baldwin) in Rise Of The Guardians. That's the one with Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny and Isla Fisher as the Tooth Fairy, and not the nominatively similar Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole which featured a different set of Australians voicing digital animation. Unless it's done alone, which tends to only be the case for short films or acts of almost monastic dedication like The Timekeepers Of Eternity animation is a collaborative effort. Here it is to great effect. Daniel Pemberton's music makes a number of useful contributions, in particular the jazzy swing of it all adds to the period feel which is sustained despite the presence of smart phones and multi-monitor setups.

That 'period' feel includes split screens, and between that and the melodic milieux it's not just scoring but a score. A big reward, from careful planning. To reference the Ocean's series having mentioned Eight, this is in the same vein of twist and double-cross as Eleven, Twelve, or Thirteen, but because of its focus on fauna the better number might, if one could adjust the arc, be two (by two).

Reviewed on: 31 Mar 2022
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The Bad Guys packshot
Several reformed yet misunderstood criminal animals attempt to become good, with some disastrous results along the way.

Director: Pierre Perifel

Writer: Aaron Blabey, Etan Cohen, Yoni Brenner

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Richard Ayoade

Year: 2022

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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