If you take Oceans Eleven and add the sensibilities and style of DreamWorks Animation, you’ll get the new animated feature The Bad Guys. It’s a fun conceit, especially when some of the best comedians and actors in the business are supplying voices for the lead characters. Oscar winner Sam Rockwell plays the lead bad guy Mr Wolf, with Marc Maron, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos and Awkwafina surrounding him as other members of a notorious group of animal outlaws. Rounding out the cast are Zazie Beetz, Lilly Singh, Richard Ayoade, and Alex Borstein. As you can imagine, with these comedic actors, The Bad Guys is destined for success, right? While the amusing concept and the embarrassment of thespian riches does add up to entertaining viewing and a worthy way to spend your movie money, the plot might strike some as one-dimensional, and it does feel like there should be more sparks flying given the impressive cast.
There’s a criminal crew committting crimes in the city made up of various threatening creatures including Mr Wolf, a safecracking Snake (Maron), Mr Shark (Robinson), who is a master of disguises, genius hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina) and Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), a scary enforcer supplying muscle when needed. After one too many heists, the gang gets caught, and Mr. Wolf brokers a deal with the powers that be in which they’ll all go good. Governor Foxington (Beetz) and the police chief (Borstein) help guide the crew towards Professor Marmalade (Ayoade) for their goodness training, but there’s a new bad guy in town gumming up the works. Meanwhile Mr. Wolf is slowly discovering that he actually likes being on the good side. His tail wags when he’s praised, and he has a soft spot for a rescued kitten.
That the flick flows at a low hum instead of the high intensity one might expect may have been due to fact that, because of the pandemic, 69 of the 80 recording sessions happened remotely. Studio recording for voice actors has always gleaned better results. It’s just easier to get into the spirit of the story.
The Bad Guys owes more than a little to Quentin Tarantino. The first scene is a direct homage to the diner scene in Pulp Fiction. That opening scene will be particularly funny for folks who have committed Pulp Fiction to memory with the fervency of a Catholic kid learning the catechism. Also, though it’s just a coincidence, given that this movie is based on a book series by Aaron Blabey in which one of the main characters is called Mr. Wolf, after the opening scene Pulp Fiction fans will forever connect Mr. Wolf to Harvey Keitel’s The Wolf. Somewhere in the near future, I predict an enterprising computer geek will have Mr Wolf speaking some of The Wolf’s more memorable lines. Pretty please, with sugar on top, I’m begging some savvy programmer to make that happen. Even the costume designer of The Bad Guys, Courtney Hoffman, has a Tarantino connection. She formerly worked on his Hateful Eight.
Based on the plot, you can already guess there’s a strong Oceans Eleven vibe, but the animators’ and Rockwell’s Mr. Wolf seems very much inspired by George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, right down to the easy wink and suave demeanor. There are also specific moments that recall heists from that film series. In that way, The Bad Guys has done a great job of capturing a sort of Oceans animation.
The Bad Guys is not nearly as much fun as I was expecting it to be, but I had a high bar. Sam Rockwell is my favorite actor, and I’ll watch anything featuring Ramos, Ayoade, or Borstein. This animated feature is certainly fun enough for your time and money, but if there are additional incarnations of the bad guys in the future, I’ll hope the script and plot will rise up to meet the quality of the cast.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars