April 18, 1983 12:00 PM

Sean Penn is a young actor with a future, so the sooner Bad Boys is part of his past the better. This brutal, preposterously plotted melodrama pretends to be imbued with a social conscience about the conditions inside today’s juvenile correctional facilities. In fact, director Rick Rosenthal uses a potentially explosive subject to trot out every prison movie cliché this side of tin-cup rattling. Then he added R-rated sadism and sex. Penn plays a 16-year-old thug put away after running down a Puerto Rican boy while making his getaway from a robbery. The dead kid’s brother, Esai Morales, retaliates by raping Penn’s girl, Ally Sheedy, and gets tossed in the clink himself. How do two known natural enemies happen to be housed together? “There was a logjam in admissions,” says prison official Reni Santoni in what must stand as a classic of lame excuses. Santoni should have simply admitted there’d be no story otherwise. Penn’s performance is the film’s only attraction. He was good enough in the small role of Timothy Hutton’s cadet pal in Taps to inspire one to seek out his name in the credits and remember it. Then, in last year’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he was a comic howl as a zonked-out surfer who challenged each wave with a jaunty “Hey, Bud, let’s party.” Now, in his first starring role, Penn takes the screen and at least fights the script to a draw against near-insurmountable odds. Bad Boys deserves a box office death sentence. Penn is hereby pardoned, for exceptionally good behavior. (R)

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