This review originally appeared in the North Texas e-News.
When it comes to The Bad Guys, being good may not come easy for the titular characters, but it’s certainly a breeze for the movie itself. The DreamWorks Animation film brings a swaggering sense of effortless cool that should hold plenty of appeal for moviegoers of all ages. The movie opens with an introduction to Mr. Wolf, aka the Big Bad Wolf you read about in fairy tales, and his best friend Mr. Snake at a coffee shop giving each other a hard time before they launch into a self-narrated heist and subsequent getaway car chase with the rest of their crew.
It’s the kind of scene that wears its inspiration on its sleeve in the best kind of way. In fact, that might be the ideal way to look at the movie as a whole. With obvious nods to films like Pulp Fiction and Ocean’s Eleven, DreamWorks even managed to work a George Clooney reference into the script. The Bad Guys seems more than happy to deliver the best kid-friendly rift on those classics that it can.
The first third of the movie follows that typical heist/crime flick formula to a tee, delivering big laughs and great action throughout in its comedic take on the material. Each of The Bad Guys crew gets a smartly written feature moment as they attempt to steal a golden statue from a charity award ceremony. The group’s so-called master of disguise Mr. Shark is the standout as he hilariously attempts to live up to his reputation in these scenes, but it’s the overall dynamic between The Bad Guys themselves that’s cemented during this time which really carries the rest of the film.
The character’s riff off each other brilliantly in these early scenes with stellar voice performances to back them up. Sam Rockwell is especially impressive at giving Wolf the kind of brash and commanding screen presence that helps set the tone for the rest of the film while Marc Maron imbues Snake with the perfect level of gruff crudeness befitting of the character’s role as the team sourpuss.
The animation in these sequences is top notch too. DreamWorks gave The Bad Guys vibrant movements and expressions that harken back to the much-missed days of hand drawn animation. The action scenes pop off the screen, especially when the police are in hot pursuit, and the visual style never distracts from a well-timed laugh. In an era where the uncanny valley is oftentimes a hallmark of any number of soulless CGI animated children’s flicks, it’s a welcome departure from the standard to say the least.
That high quality of animation and voicework remains from start to finish throughout the film as The Bad Guys blunder their way through forced attempts at turning a new leaf in the middle and latter portions. The story beats in that respect are simple and unsurprising, almost to an aching extent. Luckily, the quality gags and strong character interactions between The Bad Guys themselves largely make up for it.
Unfortunately, the film’s formula does unravel a bit in the latter stages when that prior focus on the dynamics in The Bad Guys crew shifts to include Wolf’s relationship with the Governor who’s decided to give him and his friends a second chance. The sense of style and easy comedy that carries the film’s first half wanders a bit in these scenes where the lighthearted ribs and laughs begin to feel forced.
It also doesn’t help that the movie seems determined to rush through a number of standard emotional beats in short order before coming to a close. Various characters quote its overarching message in almost explicit terms a handful of times near the climax which make a movie that had otherwise succeeded at balancing its lighthearted tone and strong purpose till that point come across as a half-baked Pixar-style attempt at pulling the heartstrings. The dueling focus in Wolf’s storyline also leads to a somewhat muddy ending that feels a touch less emotionally satisfying than it should.
Nonetheless, the film’s message about the ability to personally grow and change, as well as the importance of fighting societal stereotypes, is still well-delivered regardless. That timely message combined with great voice performances, strong animation and a natural rapport between characters makes The Bad Guys an easy recommendation for children and parents alike.
Final Score: 8/10