The Bad Guys is, in many ways, a fairly typical animated family movie. It’s got a group of charming and snarky talking animals, a bright animation style, fast-paced and physics-defying action sequences, and more than a few jokes that will only work on audience members between the ages of 2 and 10. But The Bad Guys is also a crime comedy in the same vein as Ocean’s Eleven, a film that definitely doesn’t qualify as “family-friendly,” if only because it “condones” criminal behavior.
By combining its traditional, kid-friendly elements with a plot that was clearly inspired by several much edgier heist films, The Bad Guys ends up being an unexpected combination of two opposing genres. What’s even more surprising is the fact that The Bad Guys mostly succeeds at creating the same kind of magic found in so many of the crime comedies that its makers obviously admire.
That is to say that, while The Bad Guys is still a film that feels the need to deliver an easily digestible moral lesson, it’s also the kind of movie that’s willing to start with a scene that pays clear homage to the prologue of Pulp Fiction.
Directed by Pierre Perifel and written by Etan Cohen, The Bad Guys focuses on a group of anthropomorphic animals who have come to accept their place as the go-to villains of most stories. There’s Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), and Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), all of whom bring their unique skills and personalities to their eccentric crime outfit.
The film opens with Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake sitting in a quiet city diner, and it follows them as they argue for several minutes about their food preferences before making their way across the street to rob a nearby bank. In the car chase that follows, Mr. Wolf breaks the fourth wall to introduce viewers to himself and the rest of his team members. It’s a fun and well-constructed opening sequence, one that combines elements from films like Out of Sight, Pulp Fiction, and Fast & Furious before reaching its inevitable, intentionally ludicrous conclusion.
From there, The Bad Guys follows its central crew as they attempt to steal an award from a gala event that is meant to celebrate a wealthy philanthropist named Rupert Marmalade IV (Richard Ayoade). However, things go wrong when a moment of heroism from Mr. Wolf results in him and his team being forced to undergo a series of character rehabilitation exercises, all of which are overseen by Marmalade.
It’s when the film’s titular crew are under Marmalade’s watchful eye that The Bad Guys comes dangerously close to falling apart. The tests that the characters are put through in the film all come across as uninspired, and Cohen’s script never takes the concept as far as it could. Fortunately, the film doesn’t spend too much of its runtime on The Bad Guys’ stay with Marmalade, and quickly brings it to an end with an effective, if obvious, twist.
Once The Bad Guys hits the plot beat in question (which won’t be spoiled in this review), it more or less kicks into high gear as it moves into its third act. The film begins to pick up many of the seeds that were planted in its opening section and unfurls a string of stylish and fun action sequences that are punctuated by satisfying and genuinely clever plot twists. Taking a page out of every great heist movie, the film’s closing section is filled with constant shifts in power and tongue-in-cheek cons, all of which help to bring The Bad Guys’ various plotlines and character arcs to their inevitable conclusions.
For his part, Perifel, who makes his directorial debut with The Bad Guys, fills the film with gorgeous animated visuals and slick, well-edited action sequences. The film visually embraces its absurd premise, opting for a cartoonish and goofy style that makes it look decidedly different from many of the high-budget CG-animated movies that are being released nowadays. Perifel also gives the film a warm color palette that emphasizes its golds, reds, and blacks, which just makes it all the more pleasing to look at.
Predictably, the film’s family-friendly tone prevents its ending from existing within the same kind of moral neutral ground that most great crime movies inhabit. In its concluding moments, The Bad Guys goes out of its way to wrap up its storylines as neatly as possible, which is a decision that not only stretches the film’s internal logic at points but also robs many of its characters of their charming complexity.
But the twists that The Bad Guys uses to bring its characters to their respective endpoints are all fun and clever in their own right, which makes watching the film’s final 10 minutes unfold a satisfying experience despite the forced neatness of its conclusion. In other words, while the movie certainly doesn’t pull off the perfect heist, it does succeed at doing most of what it sets out to do.
The Bad Guys hits theaters in the United States on Friday, April 22.
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