It’s been 17 years since Michael Bay took Miami detectives Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) on the maniac ride that is Bad Boys II. Perhaps the most excessive, over-the-top action film ever made—every shot is epic, everything that can explode does, it’s mostly slow-motion juxtaposed against frantic, flip-book editing—a third chapter has been in the works since 2008. The only slow part of this franchise is the development, but after countless false starts, Bad Boys for Life is finally here.
Bay hands over the reins to Belgian directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who are also attached to helm the long-after-the-fact Beverly Hills Cop 4. (Never fear, Bay still has a cameo.) The biggest question remains, after all these years, with two aging stars, and new directors, can Bad Boys for Life measure up to the frenzied, over-the-top Bay-hem of its predecessor?
Short answer: No. But what can? That movie is singularly absurd and chaotic and mean-spirited. (In case you couldn’t tell, I also love it unabashedly.) That said, on its own, Bad Boys for Life delivers a solid, propulsive, ‘90s-style buddy cop movie. Full of quips and banter, strong, clear shootouts and chase scenes, and a pace that rarely flags, this is sure to be catnip for fans of this school of tire-squealing, slow-motion diving, two-guns-wielding action.
When a cartel-backed assassin attempts to take out the previously bulletproof Mike Lowery, he and long-time partner-slash-life-mate Marcus Burnett must do what they do, saddle up for one last ride. Again. From this relatively simple premise, the script from Chris Bremmer, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan crams in as much overly complicated plot as will fit into 124 minutes. There is a lot going on.
Not only is Bad Boys for Life an adrenaline-fueled meditation on aging, the criminals who want Mike dead, Isabella Aretas (Kate del Castillo, in a fantastic bit of meta-casting) and her son Armando (Jacob Scipio), have mysterious links to his past. We also get glimpses of Mike’s romantic history, thanks to Rita (Paola Nunez). She heads a task force that represents the new breed of law enforcement that’s in direct opposition to Mike and Marcus’ antiquated methods—instead of going in guns blazing, the millennial-driven AMMO, as they’re called, relies on technology, actually following the laws, and is staffed exclusively by actors most famous for teen-centric properties—Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Charles Melton (Riverdale), and Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games). Marcus even brings God into the mix in an odd thread that basically resolves as, God says it’s okay to kill people if you’re helping your pal.
Aside from Bay’s jacked-up action, Smith and Lawrence are the driving force behind the Bad Boys movies, and they deliver what the audience wants. They’re also what keeps this from being fully generic.
It’s been more than a decade-and-a-half, and Lawrence essentially came out of retirement for this, but the duo still has the same magnetic chemistry and goofy charm. Their antagonistic banter is responsible for some fantastic lines, many of which can’t be uttered in polite company, and they often play up the fact that they’ve aged to good effect.
Not only does the clarity of age offer the most poignant emotional moments in the film—at least as poignant as it gets, this is still a Bad Boys movie after all—it’s also responsible for a few fun gags, like a running joke about Marcus needing glasses. It’s not always front and center, but the film hammers home occasional beats of unexpected emotional maturity—remember I said occasional.
Outside of a couple of episodes of the FX drama Snowfall, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah haven’t done much most American audiences will be familiar with, though they’ve helmed a couple of well-received action films. They enlisted the aid of cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert, who lensed 2017’s gorgeous Revenge. Together they create a nice-looking, if toned-down facsimile of Bay, largely steering clear of the previous director’s callous, casual misanthropy.
The action choreography is solid and coherent—Bay detractors should appreciate that they stay away from his trademark overuse of rapid-fire editing. While they ape certain elements of the earlier movies, the filmmakers also have fun playing with cliché Bay-isms.
At one point, Mike slo-mo dives through a haze of shocking pink smoke, and there’s an early nod to one of Bay’s signature spinning shots. Mike steps out of the car, looking cool as hell, suit jacket flapping in a slow-motion breeze, only for Marcus to derail the pose by opening his door into a fire hydrant. Arbi and Fallah know exactly the movie they’re making.
Like its stars, Bad Boys for Life represents a bit of a maturation. Don’t worry, that’s a relative maturation, as there are still plenty of boner jokes and juvenile macho posturing. It doesn’t blow the doors off the genre, or stray far from the formula, but for viewers nostalgic for an earlier kind of R-rated action movie, and who have missed Will Smith and Martin Lawrence hollering back and forth at each other while driving 100 miles per hour and dodging bullets, it evokes pleasant enough sensations.
Bad Boys For Life Movie Review Score: