I had myself quite the triple feature yesterday, which included probably the most explosions consumed by these eyeballs in such a contained amount of time. Upon watching Bad Boys and Bad Boys II for the first time, I thought I knew what I was in for with Bad Boys For Life, the 17-years-later return to the action/comedy duo of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s buddy cops: that is, a non-stop flurry of ridiculously entertaining action sequences and vulgar comedic hi-jinks, without any narrative reason to exist beyond just doing more of the same.
To my surprise, Bad Boys For Life provides more than a few reasons for its existence. Most importantly, it takes our middle-aged heroes seriously enough to earn the dramatic stakes it sets up, without sacrificing the fun of watching these guys bicker and blow stuff up. And while the action elements are more generically conceived this time around, and while it goes one step too far in making a personal connection between Smith’s character and the villains, this is one of the few belated sequels that builds upon its predecessors, rather than replaying the same beats to diminished effect.
It’s been a minute since we’ve last seen police detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). With a newborn grand-kid and worsened eyesight, Marcus is ready to hang up the police vest and enjoy retirement. Mike, on the other hand, isn’t ready to stop taking down criminals any time soon. And he sure as hell isn’t ready for AMMO, the newest elite team and youngest addition to the Miami police department, to take over his job duties.
Meanwhile, a criminal from Mike’s past (Kate del Castillo), along with her son, begin a killing spree, out for the blood of those who did their husband and father in. And the last person on that list is Mike Lowrey. Now, Mike must work with AMMO and convince a reluctant Marcus to help him take the bad guys down one last time.
Michael Bay directed the first two Bad Boys films with his signature brand of hyper-saturated, over-edited excess. And while Bad Boys II was significantly more successful in making the balls-to-the-wall chaos entertaining, the main draw of both of those movies is the great bromantic chemistry between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Thankfully, that chemistry still works all these years later and under new direction.
Relatively small-time directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah take over directorial duties for Bad Boys For Life. And the duo retain some of Bay’s stylistic choices, from a healthy dose of slo-mo to the orange hues of the sun-drenched Miami setting. Their handle on action sequences isn’t quite as strong, from very noticeable stunt doubles and green screen to some rather standard-issue staging of the big action beats. But what this film lacks in eye-popping bombast, it makes up for with genuinely moving character drama and a stronger antagonist.
Whereas Bay’s first two films were quite flippant when it came to establishing proper stakes or giving the villains compelling motivations, Bad Boys For Life doubles down on these aspects. This is easily the most personal of the Bad Boys films, making Mike and Marcus confront the consequences of their past actions and the dangers of fighting violence with violence. The script by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan has a strong reverence for the past, but also focuses on these characters in the present and how they would operate at this stage of their lives.
Smith and Lawrence rekindle the same chemistry that made them so watchable all those years ago, and they also handle the dramatic tension between Mike and Marcus really well. It’s still funny to see Lawrence hold back his vomit at seeing anything that’s slightly grotesque. And it’s great to see Joe Pantoliano back and struggling to keep his temper under control. The new faces bring enough personality to their rather one-note characters, especially Paulo Nunez as the leader of AMMO and an old flame of Mike’s.
Unfortunately, a game-changing, hard-to-believe reveal heading into the third act almost derails all of the goodwill the film built up previously, while also taking a page out of the Fast & Furious playbook of it all being about family. This new wrinkle in the story pushes Martin Lawrence to the sidelines, which is an odd choice for a film series that’s all about the bond between these two guys.
By the end, though, Bad Boys For Life just about sticks the landing. The January release date and sheer amount of time between films didn’t instill much confidence, which is why it’s such a pleasant surprise that this third installment works as well as it does. Emphasizing the character drama goes a long way in reviving this long-dormant franchise, and while I’m not sure I want any more of these boys being bad, it was fun to see them again.
Bad Boys For Life is rated R, and it hits theaters this weekend.
*All images courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment
Bad Boys For Life
- Will Smith and Martin Lawrence's reliably great chemistry
- Making things more personal and heightening the drama
- Playing up the comedy of how things have changed for Mike and Marcus
- An unnecessary and unbelievable late-in-the-game reveal
- A mixed bag, in the action department