Chaotic, twisty 'Bad Guys' an animated comic vehicle powered by natural gas

  • In "The Bad Guys," Wolf (Sam Rockwell) leads a band of bank robbers, including snarky safe-cracker Snake (Marc Maron), master-of-bad-disguises Shark (Craig Robinson), quick-tempered enforcer Piranha (Anthony Ramos), and leader of the hack, computer whiz Tarantula (Awkwafina).

    In "The Bad Guys," Wolf (Sam Rockwell) leads a band of bank robbers, including snarky safe-cracker Snake (Marc Maron), master-of-bad-disguises Shark (Craig Robinson), quick-tempered enforcer Piranha (Anthony Ramos), and leader of the hack, computer whiz Tarantula (Awkwafina). Courtesy of Dreamworks

 
 
Updated 4/22/2022 10:53 AM

"The Bad Guys" -- ★ ★

Don't assume that the pernicious green flatulence emitted by a bank robber named Piranha is just some cheap device pandering to the kiddie crowd.

 

Not at all.

In the DreamWorks Animation action/comedy "The Bad Guys," the vertebrate's noxious fumes become an actual plot device pandering to the kiddie crowd.

Piranha even uses his caustic emissions as a chemical weapon in the film's frequent frantic antics inspired by classic Looney Tunes.

For more adult audiences, "The Bad Guys" offers a Tarantino-esque riff on the caper genre, emanating vibes from the Danny Ocean heist movies (both the Frank Sinatra and George Clooney versions).

Fast-paced and loud with Daniel Pemberton's brassy score goosing things along, "The Bad Guys" gives us lots to absorb on the topic of situational ethics, admittedly pitched more to kids than their adult counterparts.

At a time when Pixar and Disney animated features have elevated the art form to dramatic, emotionally moving experiences, "The Bad Guys" -- the directing debut of French animator Pierre Perifel -- feels retro-cartoony with a more Saturday-morning aesthetic, one without the usual lovable suspects.

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These include the leader of the pack, Wolf (Sam Rockwell), the Clooney stand-in who breaks the law along with the Fourth Wall during the introductory bank heist and ensuing zany chase sequence.

"The Bad Guys" contemplate how to rescue a frightened kitty stuck in a tree as part of their plan to become "good guys."
"The Bad Guys" contemplate how to rescue a frightened kitty stuck in a tree as part of their plan to become "good guys." - Courtesy of Dreamworks

His accomplices could be the cast of "Reservoir Animals" with snarky safecracker Snake (Marc Maron), master-of-bad-disguises Shark (Craig Robinson), and quick-tempered enforcer Piranha (Anthony Ramos), and leader of the hack, computer whiz Tarantula (Awkwafina).

Their successful string of robberies comes to an end when they get caught trying to boost a valuable collectible at a post charity gala.

The law-and-order governor, Diane Foxworthy (Zazie Beetz), wants to put them away. But ultra-zillionaire philanthropist and prissy little guinea pig Professor Marmalade (an elite, effete Richard Ayoade) proposes that these "bad guys" be given a chance to become the "good guys" he believes they can be.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The ever-cool Wolf figures his crew can play along with the ruse ... until he discovers he might actually like being good. (A sudden furiously wagging tail gives it away every time!)

Wolf's seduction to the light side of the Force is reflected by the story's softest moments when the hardened criminal rescues a frightened kitten stuck high in a tree, and the glow of goodness causes his fur to spontaneously fluff.

They may seem like good guys, but Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Snake (Marc Maron), Shark (Craig Robinson), Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and Tarantula (Awkwafina) are really "The Bad Guys," successful bank robbers who face tough choices when they get caught.
They may seem like good guys, but Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Snake (Marc Maron), Shark (Craig Robinson), Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and Tarantula (Awkwafina) are really "The Bad Guys," successful bank robbers who face tough choices when they get caught. - Courtesy of DreamWorks

"Tropic Thunder" and "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" writer Etan Cohen, adapting Australian writer Aaron Blabey's best-selling children's books, supplies a chaotic, twisty plot with constantly shifting ethical alliances, characters revealing secret-secret identities, and chases clocking in at roadrunner speeds, all leading up to a climactic overkill finale involving a mysterious glowing meteorite and swarming armies of zombie guinea pigs with glowing eyes.

"The Bad Guys" certainly qualifies as a richer experience than the animated sequels to "Despicable Me" and "The Addams Family," but lags behind all Pixar productions.

It might have been a better choice not to go with the slightly effeminate garb (shocking purple pants and flouncy tie) and voice for Professor Marmalade, given where the character winds up. Or the overtly masculine qualities of the screechy one-note police chief Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein).

The true hero here turns out to be none other than the short, short-fused Piranha, who, under stress, unleashes the movie's most effective weapon in an effort to keep kids engaged and laughing.

As Kathleen Freeman phrased it in "The Nutty Professor": "He's a gasser!"

• • •

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

Directed by: Pierre Perifel

Other: A Universal Pictures release. In theaters. Rated PG. 100 minutes

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