Chris Nashawaty remembers 1983's ''Bad Boys'' as the flick that proved Sean Penn's promise and grit

By Chris Nashawaty
October 10, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Bad Boys: The Kobal Collection

Bad Boys (Movie - 1983)

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”Bad Boys”: Sean Penn opens a can of you-know-what

This week’s topic: 1983’s Bad Boys. But before I go into a whole spiel about the young Sean Penn and why this is one of those unsung movies that’s worth seeking out, let me start with the single strongest argument for why you should rent this movie lickety-split: It features one of the greatest beat-downs in cinema history.

If you’ve seen Bad Boys (not to be confused with the baroque 1995 Martin Lawrence-Will Smith-Michael Bay turd of the same name), then you already know the scene I’m talking about. If you haven’t, here’s the setup: Sean Penn plays a young tough named Mick O’Brien (gee, think he’s Irish? Why didn’t they just name him Potato O’Shaughnessy?). After a drug deal he plans to intercept goes awry and he hits a kid with his getaway car while being chased by the fuzz, Penn lands in the Rainford Juvenile Correctional Facility.

There, he’s spit on, hazed… everything but gang-raped in the showers by a fellow inmate played by Clancy Brown (who ironically would go on years later to play a sadistic prison guard in The Shawshank Redemption). And as any paparazzo can tell you, Sean Penn ain’t the type to put up with that kind of guff.

So, in one of the great ”bully comeuppance” scenes of all time, Penn beats the snot out of Brown with a pillowcase full of soda cans. You know how in Full Metal Jacket all the recruits beat the crap out of Vincent D’onofrio’s Pvt. Pyle with a pillowcase full of bars of soap? That was soap! This is unopened cans of Royal Crown Cola. Needless to say, Brown’s head splits open like an overripe casaba melon. You don’t want to be on the business end of that kind of ass-kicking.

The rest of the film is nearly as great. A cross between Scared Straight and Oz Goes to High School, Bad Boys may also very well be the moment Sean Penn became a star. I know, I know, Fast Times at Ridgemont High came out a year earlier. But be honest. Did you really believe back then that the blond surfer dude ordering pizza and learning about Cuba in Mr. Hand’s geography class would one day have more to offer than bong hits and checkerboard Vans? If you say ”yes,” you’re a liar.

Penn’s performance in Bad Boys is about as far from Spicoli territory as you can get. He’s brooding, shy, wounded, and, when he wants to be, badass with a pillowcase full of RC cans. When he’s joined in jail halfway through the film by his nemesis from the outside, Esai Morales (it was Morales’ kid brother who was run over by Penn; and it was Morales who, as revenge, raped Penn’s girlfriend Ally Sheedy), the movie turns from a cautionary after-school special into a powder keg of payback. Will Morales carve Penn up with his homemade shank? Or will Penn strike first, with an encore pillowcase performance? I’m not telling. But trust me, when this powder keg blows, you want to be there.

What do you think of Bad Boys? And what’s your favorite post-Spicoli Penn performance?

Bad Boys (Movie - 1983)

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