DreamWorks animation feature film “The Bad Guys” is fairly predictable in terms of story and characters, but I must admit that it made me chuckle more than once during my viewing. As the comic story about a bunch of criminal misfit characters trying to look good on the surface at least, the movie lacks surprise due to its very conventional narrative, but it cheerfully bounces along with its colorful main characters while equipped with enough wit and energy, so I decide to be a bit more lenient about a number of notable shortcomings in the film including its rather shaky background setting.
Mainly set in an LA-like city where humans and anthropomorphic animals somehow co-exist, the movie opens with the latest heist of its five anthropomorphic animal characters: Mr. Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), Ms. Tarantula (voiced by Awkwafina), Mr. Shark (voiced by Craig Robinson), and Mr. Piranha (voiced by Anthony Ramos). As criminals, these five different figures look rather too transparent due to their inherent appearances, but they work pretty well together on the whole nonetheless, and they certainly have enjoyed all the fun and notoriety from many criminal activities of theirs without getting caught by the local police.
When Diane Foxington (voiced by Zazie Beetz), who is incidentally one of the most prominent public figures in the city, later makes a sarcastic comment which belittles them on TV, Mr. Wolf and his criminal colleagues are not amused at all, so they soon come to plan another heist which will bring more notoriety to them besides humiliating Foxington, but then there comes an unexpected moment for Mr. Wolf. While he and his colleagues are about to commit that heist in question, he happens to have a little experience of being good, and then, to his surprise, he finds himself having a sort of emotional elevation.
When his and his colleagues are unfortunately arrested not long after that, Mr. Wolf and his colleagues get a lucky opportunity via Professor Rupert Marmalade IV (voiced by Richard Ayoade), a famous scientist who is very interested in having them participate in his little rehabilitation experiment. Because he is actually eager to be good instead of being bad as before, Mr. Wolf accepts Professor Marmalade’s offer without hesitation, and Mr. Wolf’s colleagues go along with that after being persuaded by him in private.
As Mr. Wolf and his colleagues take their first step of rehabilitation, we surely get a series of broad moments of gags and jokes as they fumble in one way or another. Because Mr. Wolf promised to his colleagues in advance that they will soon do another big heist after seemingly becoming ‘rehabilitated’, Mr. Wolf and his colleagues try their best, but, of course, it is not easy to suppress their bad behaviors, and one of the biggest laughs in the film comes from when they attempt to save one little cat on a palm tree.
Nevertheless, Mr. Wolf becomes more drawn to being good than before, and that naturally makes him more conflicted as the time for another heist is approaching. While he surely cares a lot about his dear criminal colleagues as usual, he may have to say goodbye to his criminal life as suggested by Professor Marmalade at one point later in the story, and, not so surprisingly, his colleagues become suspicious about his true motive.
What follows next during the last act is not particularly surprising either, but the movie, which is based on the children’s graphic novel of the same name by Aaron Blabey, keeps things rolling before reaching to the climactic part, which is incidentally packed with lots of busy actions as expected. It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Mr. Wolf and his colleagues eventually come to find their better sides in addition to being reminded of the strong friendship among them, but the film steadily maintains its sense of fun and excitement even at that point, and its overall result is good enough to wash away my dissatisfaction with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (2022), which I incidentally watched on the same day.
Director Pierre Perifel and his crew members including composer Daniel Pemberton did a competent job of bringing enough spirit and personality to the film, and the overall result is further enhanced by the effortless comic interactions among the principal voice cast members of the film. While Sam Rockwell has lots of fun with bringing slick charm to his criminal character, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, and Anthony Ramos have each own moment to shine in addition to providing extra wit and energy to the film, and Ramos is utterly uproarious when he comically utilizes his excellent singing talent (Remember how good he was in “Hamilton” (2020) as well as “In the Heights” (2021)?). As substantial supporting characters in the film, Zazie Beetz, Richard Ayoade, and Alex Borstein are also solid, and Beetz clicks well with Rockwell as their characters slyly pull and push each other along the story.
In conclusion, “The Bad Guys” does not exceed my expectation much, but it succeeds as much as intended at least, and I often noticed how several young audiences in the screening room actively responded to it with frequent laughs. Because a local multiplex chain happens to be showing several classic films of Yasujirō Ozu at present, I would rather recommend them to experience the gentle humanism of this great Japanese filmmaker’s simple but sublime works instead, but they did have a good time with “The Bad Guys”, so I will not grumble for now.