January 24, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Why we can’t wait to see ”Bad Boys 2”

THE STORY In this sequel to the 1995 hit, Miami cops Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reteam in a case involving drugs and money laundering. Gabrielle Union (”Bring It On”) shows up as a half-sister to Lawrence and love interest for Smith.

THE GOODIES Funnymen Smith and Lawrence are a proven buddy team, whose rapport includes both freshly-improvised repartee and old groaners like the black-guys-disguised-as-Klansmen gag swiped from ”Blazing Saddles.” Director Michael Bay (”Armageddon,” ”Pearl Harbor”), returning to the franchise that launched his film career, promises his trademark explosions, gunplay, car chases, and Oscar-caliber acting.

CREATIVE CASTING Joe Pantoliano, working the right side of the law, returns as the partners’ exasperated police captain (is there any other kind?). Henry Rollins covers up his tattoos to play a narcotics enforcement team leader.

BURNING QUESTION Which long-gestating sequel do you want to see on July 18? This one, or ”Exorcist: The Beginning,” the fourth movie in the series and the first since 1990?

TREND WATCH Will Smith casting deals that take longer to put together than the movie does to shoot. The same thing happened with ”Men in Black 2.” Fortunately, at this rate, Smith won’t inflict ”Wild Wild West 2” on us until at least 2009.

COULD BE A skillfully made action/buddy comedy, just like the original. Or? a pointless, noisy, substance-free spectacle, just like the original.

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