Bad Boys (1983)

Bad Boys (1983)

“I ain’t afraid of anything.”

A juvenile delinquent (Sean Penn) is sent to prison after accidentally killing the brother of a rival gang member (Esai Morales). Meanwhile, Morales gets revenge by raping Penn’s girlfriend (Sheedy), and appears in prison ready for a showdown.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Gangs
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Prisoners
  • Revenge

Bad Boys edges dangerously close to a juvie exploitation flick in its familiar tale of a teen from a broken home who find himself battling both personal demons — and literal enemies — in a detention center. Fortunately, the film’s predictable storyline is redeemed by several notable performances, including a young Esai Morales as Penn’s nemesis (four years before his breakthrough role as Ritchie Valens’ brother in La Bamba), and Sean Penn in one of his earliest powerhouse performances. While we can predict the final narrative arc of the movie long before it arrives, we care enough about both Penn and Morales (a rare feat in a film where one character is clearly the protagonist) to hope things end well for them.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sean Penn in an early star-making role
  • Esai Morales as Penn’s nemesis
  • Ally Sheedy as Penn’s girlfriend

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended simply for the performances by Penn and Morales.


One thought on “Bad Boys (1983)

  1. Not a must, but not a waste of time.

    Director Rick Rosenthal went on to have a solid career in tv – and ‘Bad Boys’ does ultimately have a kind of formulaic tv feel to it. Still, it’s reasonably well-constructed (esp. in the ground it covers), it’s certainly gritty, and more compelling as it moves to its conclusion, which Rosenthal handles particularly well. (I hadn’t seen this before.)

    I wouldn’t for a minute say that I felt empathy for either Penn or Morales – in fact, I had the feeling that both of these guys know they’re bad news and don’t particularly care. Sure, they’re not completely cold-hearted but, as shown in the film, they only ‘soften’ when they’re shown naive, unconditional love (to Penn from Sheedy; to Morales from his little brother).

    The major difficulty in a film like this is in diversifying. There’s such a sameness in films about men behind bars – and ‘Bad Boys’ doesn’t completely escape that, esp. early on. So we get to see/hear – again – the new inmates being jeered, we learn about the routine of who’s ‘boss’ among the thugs, what you have to do to get cigarettes, the all-too-familiar confrontation scenes during meals, etc. But, surprisingly, the film picks up momentum and there’s little doubt your interest will hold. (Somehow the language seems a little ‘clean’ to me; yes, you do hear ‘fuck’ once or twice – but was someone a bit conscious of the censors? Would none of these guys say “suck my dick” or “cocksucker”? And the middle finger, used as much as it is, seems a little…coy under the circumstances.)

    As good as Penn is in this early performance, I was more impressed by Eric Gurry as Penn’s sidekick Horowitz. He’s an intriguing little ball of fire – the kind of clever upstart who is somewhat unassuming but nevertheless a bit of a time-bomb, who inherently knows (to a degree) how to fuck with both people and the system. (Gurry quit acting in 1993.) Morales and Sheedy both turn in solid work, each bringing slightly more depth than is called for.

    Fave moment (because of what it signifies): lying on his bed in his cell, Penn has set fire to Sheedy’s photograph and watches her disappear as the photo slowly burns.

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