After “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” actor Sean Penn barely skidded the realm of being typecast and completely destroyed his break out role by taking on a new form as a dramatic actor. One of his more intense efforts is the 1983 “Bad Boys,” an underrated but excellent near masterpiece about boys on the verge of being men who don’t realize they’re about to become hardened criminals if they don’t break out of their cycles of violence soon. “Bad Boys” is a message at the core about when these young men will transform in to individuals capable of being tried as adults and when they will eventually make it in to an actual penitentiary. In the realm of “Bad Boys,” the penitentiary is the final stop for these young men, and counselor Ramon Herrerra makes a point of showing main character Mick O’Brien his environment, if he doesn’t find a way to change his fate soon.
The shot is long and contemplative while the prison is depicted as an endless canyon of rooms and dark halls holding newly formed criminals with nothing left to offer life. The ultimate goal for “Bad Boys” is not about the final confrontation, but about whether the final confrontation will transform Mick O’Brien from a petty thug in to a legitimate menace to society. Will this climactic fight lead him in to the last stroke of humanity depleting in a fit of anger and rage from what has culminated over the months since his arrest and confinement? The goal of Mick’s adversary Paco Moreno isn’t so much bent around vengeance as it is to prove Mick is exactly the type of scum he is forced to hang around in the reform school he’s sent to. Though Mick is one of the many young boys seeking rite of passage in his city through crime and violence, O’Brien doesn’t officially associate himself with the type.
Even the young Jewish science wiz Horowitz who befriends O’Brien, uses much of his creative energy in lashing out against authority and his enemies in the prison rather than rightfully implementing his skills to build a masterful career. He’s much too concerned with savoring his violent urges and proving to others that he’s as much a man as everyone in the reform school than he is focusing his energy on productive practices that can benefit others. Meanwhile Esai Morales as Moreno has admitted defeat long ago and sets out to show O’Brien that he’s exactly the type of beast he completely alienates himself from throughout the course of the film’s events. Even when it becomes clear Morales’ character Moreno was the primary cause for the death of his little brother, he pits the entire blame on O’Brien.
Thus he spends the entirety of the story trying to get to him to exact his revenge. By conforming to the statistic and transforming himself in to the very criminal that has made him nothing but another thug in his neighborhood, he is able to reach O’Brien, only to discover even in the midst of the violent environment, O’Brien hasn’t assimilated so much as built the environment to his own resistance against becoming a vicious criminal. He even teams with O’Brien’s in house enemy Lofgren (Clancy Brown in one of his slimiest roles of his career) to orchestrate scenarios that will lure O’Brien in to a vicious altercation, but finds the environment not only changing his foe, but changing everyone else in the process.
O’Brien’s dilemma is being able to protect himself while also maintaining his honor and prevent himself from giving in to his violent tendencies. Unlike everyone in the reform school, O’Brien has potential to contribute to society, and has no choice but to face off against Moreno when he lands in the same reform school O’Brien does after a carefully orchestrated plot. The final scenes are not only exciting, but depict a moment of metaphysical transformation for O’Brien in to a world of civility where he could possibly change the ring of crime once and for all. It’s still one of Penn’s most effective thrillers. Director Rick Rosenthal’s crime drama is still a volatile and relevant look at an aimless generation of boys seeking their entrance in to manhood whom are all too willing to submit to crime and violence as a means of relieving their aggression and justifying their existence. With a great cast and excellent writing, “Bad Boys” is an eighties gem.