Bad Boys Originally Had Two Wildly Different Stars Who Would Have Changed the Movie

Before Will Smith and Martin Lawrence became the Bad Boys, two even more unlikely comedians were in line for Marcus and Mike.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys II poster
Photo: Sony Pictures

“Let’s face it, I had a bad script,” director Michael Bay said on the commentary track of his debut feature film, Bad Boys. Bay isn’t wrong. Bad Boys relies on buddy comedy tropes already established in 1974’s Freebie and the Bean and 1982’s 48 Hrs., complete with nonsense plot points. “But I had real comic talent in my two stars.” Bay of course means Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. Drawn from the popular sitcoms Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Lawrence and Smith saved the movie from the clunky script (and, be honest, Bay’s incoherent direction) with their easy chemistry and comic timing.

At one point, however, Bad Boys had two very different stars in mind with a comic chemistry unlike that of Lawrence and Smith.

Live From Miami, It’s Saturday Night!

In the 1980s, there were no greater kingmakers than Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. Not only did the super producers turn Tom Cruise and Eddie Murphy into superstars with Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop (not that either was an unknown commodity before those moments), but they also launched the directing careers of Adrian Lyne and Tony Scott. For feature filmmaker hopeful Michael Bay, Bruckheimer and Simpson were the guys who could transform a commercial director into a Hollywood player.

So Bay, still at the time making commercials for Coke and the Got Milk? campaign, took any meeting he could get with Bruckheimer and Simpson. The main project in the works was called Bulletproof Hearts, an action/comedy package for Disney. The intended stars of Bulletproof Hearts? Dana Carvey as Mike Lowery and Jon Lovitz as Marcus Burnett.

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Of course that now seems crazy. But at the time, it made as much sense as putting sitcom stars Smith and Lawrence in an action film. After all, despite an electric turn in Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs., Eddie Murphy was still best known for Saturday Night Live when he did Beverly Hills Cop. His other hit, in fact, was a two-hander with fellow SNL alumni Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places. Furthermore, Lovitz and Carvey had already transitioned into movies, with the Lovitz in Big and A League of Their Own and Carvey in Wayne’s World and Opportunity Knocks.

More importantly, Lovitz and Carvey were co-starring alongside Nicolas Cage in 1994’s Trapped in Paradise, written and directed by George Gallo. Gallo had come off a few successful buddy comedies, including Brian De Palma’s Wise Guys and Martin Brest’s Midnight Run. And Gallo wanted to put Lovitz and Carvey into his next buddy comedy Bulletproof Hearts. So Bulletproof Hearts had a studio in Disney, producers in Simpson and Bruckheimer, a director in Bay, a writer in Gallo, and stars in Lovitz and Carvey. All they needed was to pull it together. The first few tests that Bay held with Lovitz and Carvey went well enough, even if the director already had his doubts about the script. But then the stars met with the producers and everything fell apart.

How and why it fell apart is up for debate. On a 2020 episode of the podcast Literally! With Rob Lowe, Lovitz suggested that the project go to Columbia Pictures, where his one-time manager Barry Josephson was president. In Lovitz’s words, Josephson said they should “switch it up,” resulting in he and Carvey moving on. Earlier that same year, Smith told Jimmy Fallon that a change in Lovitz’s schedule necessitated the change. In some tellings, Simpson’s notoriously extreme behavior irritated Carvey so much that he dropped out of the project.

Carvey and Lovitz, Watcha Gonna Do?

Nearly 30 years and four movies later, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Smith and Lawrence as Mike and Marcus. But we can guess at the version of Bad Boys with Carvey and Lovitz in the lead. Lovitz actually makes a lot of sense as family man Marcus, a guy less concerned about catching the bad guys as he is in enjoying suburban life. His sardonic sense of humor works for a character always irritated by all the drug dealers he has to murder.

On the other hand, Carvey’s a lot harder to picture as Mike Lowrey. On both Saturday Night Live and in his movies, Carvey worked best when doing impressions or playing nebbish weirdos like Garth Algar or George Kellogg in The Road to Wellville. If he were to be a slick, flashy cop like Smith’s Mike, Carvey would have to do an impression of someone else: perhaps an established movie star such as Tom Cruise.

It would be tempting to say that Bulletproof Hearts would have looked a lot like Trapped in Paradise, as both actors featured Gallo’s script. Despite the appealing trio of leads, Trapped in Paradise is an inert film, which fails to get the black comedy balance right. Certainly, Bay would have added plenty of energy to the Gallo script, as he did in the finished version of Bad Boys.

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Furthermore, Bay compensated for shortcomings in Gallo’s script by letting Smith and especially Lawrence improvise. Sketch comedy vets Lovitz and Carvey could certainly improv as well, but it would have a very different feel than what we see in Bad Boys. “The script was so white,” Bay recalls on the Bad Boys commentary track. It would only get more white with its original leads.

Smith and Lawrence For Life

Whatever the reason, Carvey and Lovitz left the project and then cycled through other possibilities, including Arsinio Hall and possibly Eddie Murphy, before landing with Lawrence, who in turn brought in Smith.

According to an anecdote Smith likes to share whenever he gets the chance, Bad Boys made him a star. When shooting the chase sequence that led to Bay’s signature rotating hero shot, the director told Smith to remove his shirt to run. Despite Bay’s assurances that the scene would look amazing, Smith balked, leading to an on-set disagreement. They ended up on a compromise, with Smith wearing an opened button-down for the run. Sure enough, the scene looked awesome and Will Smith went from sweet-hearted rapper and sitcom star to the coolest guy on screen. Hard to imagine the same happening with either Carvey or Lovitz.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die is now in theaters.