Radix Malorum Est Cupiditas
Directed by Pierre Perifel
Starring Sam Rockwell, Zazie Beetz, Richard Ayoade
Released April 22nd, 2022
What would a 1970s heist movie be like if it were made for kids? It would probably involve more flatulence, for one. Such is the case for The Bad Guys, a movie that really wants you to think its characters are cool, even when they are cutting muffins. To be fair, it’s just one of The Bad Guys who passes gas when they get nervous. But why stop there? Why not have the whole crew deal with IBS? Gags involving breaking wind may get a chuckle from younger audiences, but unfortunately laughs in general are few and far between.
Set in a world where cartoon humans coexist with anthropomorphic animals, The Bad Guys are a crew of well-known criminal animals who specialize in robbery. We see cats as pets in the film, but nobody seems to think it’s strange that there are talking wolves and sharks. It’s best not to think too hard about it. After all, this is a flick with a farting piranha. The crew’s latest target is the Golden Dolphin award, which they plan to steal before it is given to Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), a do-gooding Guinea pig.
Before this can happen, Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), the crew’s leader, does a good deed for an old woman and finds his tail wagging. He is confused that doing something good could make him feel good, since he’s always been a bad guy. When the crew’s plan is foiled and they are caught by police chief Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein), Mr. Wolf convinces Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beets) to let Professor Marmalade reform the crew instead of sending them to the big house. Mr. Wolf assures his comrades that this is all a ruse to keep them out of jail and give them another opportunity to steal the Golden Dolphin award.
When Mr. Wolf’s tail wagged, it showed him that doing something good could make him feel good. Is that the message of the movie? That one should do good because it makes one feel good? “If it feels good, do it” is an irresponsible philosophy for a film aimed at youngsters. What about doing good things simply because it’s the right thing to do? The bad guys say they act bad because of society’s perception of them, as many people are frightened of the animals that make up their crew: wolves, sharks, spiders, piranhas, and snakes. But they obviously enjoy what they do. Which are crimes. They do crimes. And they are good at doing crimes. They are proud of their crimes.
Surprisingly, in the end the film shows the characters serving time for their misdeeds before embarking on their new life of…crime fighting? At least, I think that’s what was going on at the conclusion. I fell asleep for a minute there. As their car speeds away from jail with our crew blasting loud music, the film seems to be saying you can still be cool even if you’re a do-gooder, you just need hot sunglasses, a hot car, and a hot fox.
Diane Foxington, the most alluring animated character since Judy Hopps in Zootopia, is brought to life by the wonderful Zazie Beetz. Anthony Ramos gives Mr. Piranha a Kevin Hart cadence, while Marc Maron makes Mr. Snake as grumpy as possible. Craig Robinson is the most expressive of the cast, you can tell he’s really having fun performing Mr. Shark. I can imagine Sam Rockwell dancing in the studio while recording his lines for Mr. Wolf, and Awkwafina lends her distinctive voice to Ms. Tarantula, a character gender-swapped from the book series by Aaron Blabey (who is a producer here) from which the film is adapted. The voice cast does their best to make the lackluster script work.
The Bad Guys moves at a frenetic pace, with pages of dialogue shouted at you so fast you barely have time to process the plot. The overstuffed screenplay by Etan Cohen never wows as much as the fun visuals. DreamWorks uses an animation style that feels elastic, able to stretch and bend as the characters mug for the camera. The animators also use subtle cel-shading that recalls Sony Picture Animation’s more ambitious Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But the real hero here is composer Daniel Pemberton, who delivers a score that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Guy Ritchie film. I would rock his super cool sounds of the 70s on vinyl in a heartbeat.
I may have briefly fallen asleep while watching The Bad Guys, but I’m game to see what comes next for Mr. Wolf and Diane Foxington. Instead of big screen sequels, I think these characters would do well in an episodic format on the small screen. That way we can follow their exploits as they continue to do good, and I can fall asleep on my couch.