Movie review

“We may be bad, but we’re so good at it.”

He’s got that right.

Mr. Wolf, the lupine leader of the larcenous critters at the center of the delightful animated comedy “The Bad Guys,” knows whereof he speaks.

His crew, the sinuous safecracker Mr. Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), the speedily nimble-limbed computer hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), the splenetic sharp-toothed Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and the ever-hungry Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) go about their wayward ways with undisguised glee. Panicked people run screaming when they see this mob coming, which brings fang-filled grins to their avaricious faces.

Crime is fun, and no one enjoys it more than the snappily dressed Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell). But there’s an angry edge to his enjoyment as he acknowledges that wolfkind is “the villain of every story! Guilty until proven innocent!” He and his associates have a rep, perhaps not entirely deserved, so they may as well live up to it.

What we have here is a classic caper picture — dream big, steal bigger — in which Mr. Wolf experiences twinges of conscience that cause him no end of agita. Could doing good possibly feel better than being bad? Hmmm. An unanticipated feel-good sensation manifests itself in a telltale waggle of his wolfy tail. Very embarrassing. And also very funny.

Based on a series of children’s graphic novels by Australian author Aaron Blabey, “The Bad Guys” is sharply scripted (by Etan Cohen) and propulsively directed (by Pierre Perifel). It’s fast on its feet, which is quite a feat considering that one of its main characters — that would be Mr. Snake — has none. Feet, that is. That lack is offset by Ms. Tarantula, who has limbs to spare. And the rapid-fire pitter-patter of those spidery digits over computer keyboards is a comical running gag throughout.

Advertising

The awakening of Mr. Wolf’s conscience is prompted by the story’s sexy governor (Zazie Beetz), who is a true fox, and a plump, diminutive philanthropist guinea pig (Richard Ayoade), whose motivations are strangely obscure.

The heists in the picture are several and complex (a museum piece is purloined), and the fortunes of the heistmeisters are varied. Which is to say they get busted a lot and then improbably set free to heist again.

The plotting consistently surprises as double-crosses abound. And the set-piece action sequences (car chases a specialty here) are quite something. A mass attack of hypnotized guinea pigs is a jaw-dropper.

The characters are well-defined and Rockwell holds the picture together as he conveys Mr. Wolf’s shifting emotional states: suave, vexed and morally conflicted. Kids will love “The Bad Guys” and there’s plenty of substance for adults as well.

“The Bad Guys” ★★★½ (out of four)

With the voices of Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Zazie Beetz, Anthony Ramos, Craig Robinson, Richard Ayoade, Alex Borstein. Directed by Pierre Perifel, from a screenplay by Etan Cohen, based on a series of children’s graphic novels by Aaron Blabey. 100 minutes. Rated PG for action and rude humor. Opens April 21 at multiple theaters.

More