The story in between those chases is slightly less thrilling, though Cohen peppers the script with one-liner after one-liner, including a heaping helping of pop-culture references sure to appease the parents in the audience, if not their kids. (You will have to take my word for it that when a character said Wolf’s charm offensive was “the full Clooney,” my son whispered to me, “I don’t understand that.” It’s safe to assume most kids wouldn’t, though.) If there’s a credit to give to the cast, it’s that – as recognizable as they are – there’s very little sense of lazy voiceover with little to no energy. Rockwell’s laid-back charm works very well for his take on the sly Wolf, who balances his shrewdness with an unavoidable desire to be better than people perceive him to be. And early on, his voice work meshes well with that of comedian and podcaster Marc Maron, cast appropriately as the tetchy and oft-annoyed Snake. (Though he doesn’t get to extol the virtues of coffee that makes him soil himself, Maron and the rest of the cast all but say the words, “So, who are your guys?” Here, which is another little joy for any adults in the audience who know Maron from “WTF.”) Robinson, Ramos, and Awkwafina do a fine job as the slightly-less-onscreen rest of the eponymous Bad Guys, with Robinson’s giddy take on the inexplicably effective incognito thief Shark particularly fun.
And there are a few moments where “The Bad Guys” effectively manages to fall in line with the many grown-up films it’s trying to reference. The opening scene, a back-and-forth conversation between criminals at a diner talking about random minutiae, feels like a nod to Quentin Tarantino’s’ 90s-era films, and the climactic heist and chase nods to the “Ocean’s” series and even, briefly, “Point Break.” But more often than not, “The Bad Guys” gives off the air of a remix of earlier animated films from Disney and DreamWorks Animation. It’s unfortunate – because while Blabey’s source material also has the same basic setup, its propulsive pacing in each successive installment makes it a lot easier to look past where the author’s mining his ideas from. Here, the ways in which “The Bad Guys” owes a heavy debt to other films are hard to miss for anyone old enough to remember those other titles.
All that said, “The Bad Guys” has its charms, even if they’re less impactful than recent original Pixar fare like “Luca” or “Turning Red.” The animation of the main characters is a clever balance of flatter two-dimensional characters and computer animation, and some of the visual gags are well done. And in those bookend action sequences, Perifel and his team create solid reminders that animation’s barriers are much slimmer than that of live-action, allowing for more creative and intricately detailed chases. When you look at DreamWorks Animation’s other titles, both recent releases and their few upcoming ones, it’s enough to want to like “The Bad Guys” more. As it is, the film is light and fun and enjoyable enough, at least in the moment. Who knows? If the film’s enough of a hit, DWA will likely turn this into a franchise, allowing for a more entertaining sequel.
/ Movie Rating: 6.5 out of 10