“The Bad Guys” looks at the animals that make us want to scream, scream and run over them, and asks why that’s the case.
Based on a series of graphic novels by Aaron Blabey, the animated comedy follows a group of animal criminals who have a really good time stealing stuff. The leader of the pack is Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell, continuing his streak of at least 10% improvements on any movie). Wolf is basically Danny Ocean with a tail. In fact, much of “The Bad Guys” is a nod, nod, and nudge at “Ocean’s 11,” right down to the storytelling, visual style, and a few very specific jokes: Wolf puts the moves on a vixen going “full Clooney.” be able to walk or breathe oxygen. Go ahead.)
Wolf’s comrades are the grumpy snake (Marc Maron); the master of disguise Shark (Craig Robinson); Piranha (Anthony Ramos), a fish with an anger management problem; and the tech genius Tarantula (Awkwafina). They are at the top of their game at the start of the film. People are so scared of them that they can pretty much walk into any bank, point at the money, and walk out without threatening anyone. Life is beautiful.
Of course, every heist movie needs one last job, and this one is aiming for an award for the most benevolent creature in the state – in this case, a guinea pig named Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade). Wolf and the rest of the gang want to get their names into the Criminal Hall of Fame by snatching the trophy. The heist goes awry, naturally, and the gang find themselves at the mercy of Marmelade’s re-education instincts, with the professor – in Henry Higgins fashion – betting he can turn these villains into model citizens.
The film tackles an intriguing question: why are bad guys bad guys? They have no choice, according to Wolf. Each story has a villain: the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the great white in “Jaws”, the wolf in “The Three Little Pigs”. What’s the point of trying to get on someone’s good side? It doesn’t matter how nice Tarantula is; whenever it comes up, people start looking for a heavy book to flatten it. Might as well monetize fear.
Still, as Wolf learns more about the benefits of being good, he likes it. This opens up a rift between him and his longtime accomplices, and ultimately he will have to make a choice.
The animation – especially during the many action sequences, and especially during car chases – is crisp and fast and wonderful to watch. As in the “Ocean’s” films, there are some clever edits that bring sophistication to the film’s look, despite a few stumbles. Case in point: Wolf, like other furry characters, has a very blurry body, but the rendering of his face is so smooth that it looks like he went a bit too far with the Instagram filter. DreamWorks Animation is notorious for cutting corners compared to, say, Pixar: it’s easier and faster to render facial expressions if you don’t have to worry about every mustache. But it’s annoying. There is also a lack of emotion in the eyes of the protagonists. The uniformly excellent voice acting helps make up for that, but there’s not much the cast can do.
The moral of the story doesn’t pack a big punch. Not that he needs it. (We can’t all be “Encanto.”) Still, it’s clever, visually interesting and very, very funny. Even when the humor becomes understated, it has narrative meaning. A gas joke is much funnier when it’s essential to the plot. “The Bad Guys” understands that.
In fact, “The Bad Guys” gets a lot going. He knows exactly what he is — and what he sets out to do, he does well. It’s a heist movie with heart and humor, and where’s the crime in that?
PG. In neighborhood theatres. Contains action and crude humor. 100 minutes.