It stars the brilliant stand-up comic Chris Rock in dual roles as high-IQ identical twins separated at birth, with one growing up to be superbly educated, the other street-smart.
Rock initially portrays a suave super spy who has been negotiating for two years to buy a suitcase nuclear bomb from Russian gangsters. He is killed by Serbian terrorists who want the device for their own nefarious purposes.
Fearing that his absence will scare off the skittish bomb-mongers, his CIA partner (played by Anthony "Hannibal the Cannibal" Hopkins) tracks down his long-lost identical twin in Jersey City, where the poor brother scrapes by scalping Knicks tickets while hustling speed chess games at the park. The Company runs him through a Pygmalion course so he can pass as his rich brother at the buy.
This plot gimmick of twins raised apart is an all-time favorite. Long before Disney's beloved "The Parent Trap," Shakespeare used it in "The Comedy of Errors" (and he stole that story from the Roman playwright Plautus). The vastly popular 19th-century novelist Alexandre Dumas employed it in both "The Man in the Iron Mask" and "The Corsican Brothers."
Separated-twin plots offer storytelling opportunities ranging from the farcical to the philosophical, since they allow speculation about the fundamental question of nature vs. nurture.
"Bad Company" implicitly subscribes to the famous 1990 "Minnesota Twins" study of identical and fraternal twins raised apart, which found that the more genes in common, the closer the personalities. Here, the poor twin has radically different tastes than his rich brother -- basketball vs. skiing, rap vs. classical -- but equal brain power. Further, deep down, he shares his privileged twin's bourgeois values: He takes up the CIA's dangerous offer in order to earn enough money to marry his long-suffering sweetheart.
All this is rushed through, however, to leave more time for car chases and shootouts. "Bad Company" turned out to be the dumb little brother of the recent big (and smart) hit, "The Sum of All Fears." While Ben Affleck's performance as the secret agent hero in "Sum" drew some catcalls, Rock makes Affleck look like second coming of Sean Connery.
One of the pleasures of separated-twin plots is watching an expert actor instantly switch from underclass to upper caste and back again. Unfortunately, Rock is barely talented enough to play one role, much less two. At any particular moment, it can be hard to tell which brother his character is supposed to be portraying.
While this kind of black-white buddy action movie launched Eddie Murphy's film career in "48 Hours," Murphy was already an ace inventor of characters. Rock, in contrast, has one basic shtick. He looks like a choirboy somehow possessed by the irate and incredulous soul of an old codger who hangs around the barbershop loudly divulging unwelcome truths.
Further, Rock refuses to bulk up. His advice to would-be comics is: "Don't exercise much. It's not really funny. (Jim) Carrey looks like he's in pretty good shape, but traditionally, funny guys have never been buff." That philosophy would be admirable if Rock didn't also want to star in Bruckheimer movies.
Rather like what Rock is doing now, Hopkins long ago gave up what he was supreme at -- he was the next great Hamlet -- to make big Hollywood movies.
They make a peculiar black-white buddy team. It's easy to imagine Bruckheimer greenlighting "Bad Company" with the thought, "Well, sure, the script's lame, but Chris and Sir Anthony will no doubt have such terrific 'Odd Couple' chemistry together -- kind of a Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker thing -- that the audience will love it, anyway."
Unfortunately, during his scenes with Rock, Hopkins -- who is 64 (and not a particularly good 64, either) -- appears mostly to be conserving his energy. As well he should, because the retired Shakespearean legend has to do almost all the fighting in the movie.
It's as if in "Sum of All Fears," Morgan Freeman beats up the terrorist thugs while Affleck squeals in fright. Now, maybe I'm just a victim of stereotypes, but when I see an action thriller starring a 36-year-old African-American and an elderly Welshman, I want to see the villains get smacked around by the young guy, not by Laurence Olivier's former understudy.