It’s never a bad sign when a movie fiddles with the logo of the studio that made it. Remember how “Raiders of the Lost Ark” begins with the Paramount mountain fading into the outlines of an actual mountain? Or that the Warner Bros. logo at the start of “Argo” is the ugly one from the ’70s, when the movie is set?
Well, “The Bad Guys” takes the cute kid with a fishing pole in the DreamWorks logo and replaces him with a rather raffish-looking wolf who sneaks his way up onto that crescent moon. Right off the bat, we’re being told to expect irreverence and inventiveness. Those expectations will be met.
That wolf — more accurately, Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) — is one of the five anthropomorphic title characters. The others are Snake (Marc Maron), Tarantula (Awkwafina), Shark (Craig Robinson), and Piranha (Anthony Ramos). They are masters of high crimes and mad misdemeanors, though not as masterful as the mysterious Crimson Paw (whose identity will not be revealed here, though it is in the movie). Their exploits keep a nicely stylized Los Angeles agog. “Yeah, we may be bad,” Wolf brags, “but we’re so good at it.”
The Bad Guys’ motto is “Go bad — or go home,” followed by a fist bump, at least for those who have fists. Several of the Guys have special talents. Shark is skilled at disguise. He stole the “Mona Lisa” by dressing up as ... Mona Lisa. Tarantula is a tech wiz. Having eight appendages can come in handy, so to speak, when working multiple keyboards.
These abilities get put to use in the pair of big heists we see the Guys attempt. One of them takes place at a very fancy gala where the famous humanitarian Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade) is being honored. Presenting the award is no less a figure than Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz).
Marmalade is a guinea pig. Guess what Snake’s favorite food is? “The Rolls-Royce of rodents,” he fondly calls them. This makes for some interesting interactions. Interesting interactions of another sort have to do with the governor’s being a fox. Foxes and wolves are not all that dissimilar. “The Bad Guys” puts a premium on comedy and action, but perhaps there’s a hint of romance in the air, too.
The movie’s based on a series of children’s books by Australian author Aaron Blabey. Director Pierre Perifel makes his feature debut. He doesn’t seem like a beginner. The movie has a casual, offhand feel that’s quite winning. The all-but-endless possibilities CGI offers carry with them the temptation to overdo and go the frantic route, animation-wise. Perifel avoids this. He gets a big assist from Daniel Pemberton’s stylish pastiche score.
“The Bad Guys” has its sophomoric moments. A running gag concerning Piranha’s flatulence is a bit much, even if it’s sure to please the “Captain Underpants” crowd. Overall, the movie has a nicely sophisticated tone. A lot of that has to do with the breeziness of Rockwell’s line readings and the endearing sourness of Maron’s. Beetz’s have real zip, too.
Fiddling with the DreamWorks logo isn’t the only bit of movie misdirection “The Bad Guys” has to offer. The other one is surely unintended, though. Thanks to the LA setting and the frequent car chases (you did know wolves can drive, right?), the movie has moments when it recalls an earlier April release. It might be interesting to do a compare-and-contrast to see which is more cartoonish, “The Bad Guys” or “Ambulance.”
THE BAD GUYS
Directed by Pierre Perifel. Written by Etan Cohen, Yoni Brenner, and Hilary Winston; based on the books by Aaron Blabey. Featuring the voices of Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Zazie Beetz, Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade. At Boston theaters, suburbs. 100 minutes. PG (action, rude humor)
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.