Bad Boys For Life movie review: Will Smith-Martin Lawrence's buddy cop franchise gets a serviceable, if unnecessary, instalment
Bad Boys for Life may often seem witless but it is not entirely joyless — and it may just be the best entry in the franchise.
castWill Smith, Martin Lawrence, Alexander Ludwig, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Nunez, Kate Del Castillo, Nicky Jam, Joe Pantoliano, Theresa Randle, Bianca Bethune, Jacob Scipio
directorAdil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah
The 2020 Hollywood sequels-no-one-asked-for calendar kicks off with Bad Boys for Life.
The new instalment attempts to revive the Bad Boys franchise by recapturing Will Smith and Martin Lawrence's loose and easy chemistry, hoping it buoys up that overworked familiarity. Only, as Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) reminds us in the film, “Bad boys ain’t really boys no more.”
It has been 17 years since the last time we saw the detective duo blow shit up for the greater good of Miami and Michael Bay's career. Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) has just become a grandfather, and considers retiring to live with his family in peace and comfort. Mike Lowrey (Smith) is a battle-hardened bachelor still dealing in macho heroics and tired one-liners. But the past, in the form of witchy drug lord Isabel (Kate del Castillo) and her assassin son Armando (Jacob Scipio), catches up with him, and the Bad Boys must team up “one last time.”
Bad Boys for Life does not really reinvent the franchise, so much as it breathes new life into old cliches and caricatures. Though the blatant homophobia of the first two films is thankfully missing, the xenophobia is alive and well. If the bad guys were French in Bad Boys, and of the Cuban, Russian, and Haitian varieties in Bad Boys II, here they are Mexican. Even if they are middle-aged, Smith and Lawrence still fly through the air, in slow motion, shooting two guns at once, and drive a Porsche 911 recklessly through the "this time, it's personal" plot of the film.
Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (billed as Abdil & Bilall), who take over directing duties from Bay, do however find a better balance between the plot and the action than the original helmer of the franchise could. They use the characters' middle-age internal crises to raise the impact of the action sequences.
Smith and Lawrence still have the ability to get a gasp out of an action sequence, and the occasional chuckle, if not a roar of laughter. But the one-liners are not as funny as they think they are, and the dialogues range from cheesy platitudes (“Don’t you know that family is all that matters?”) to plain WTF (“I’m trying to penetrate his soul with my heart”).
The film not only sees the return of Smith, Lawrence, Pantoliano, and Theresa Burnett, but also brings in some new blood to help the veteran duo in their mission, and thus revitalise the franchise. AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations), an elite tech-driven team of young cops led by Mike's ex-girlfriend Rita (Paola Núñez), also features Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), Rafe (Charles Melton), and Dorn (Alexander Ludwig). So even if there is no sequel to the film, an AMMO spin-off in the future seems quite likely.
Abdil & Bilall's desire to create their own identity within the Hollywood blockbuster ecosystem is visible in their inventive action sequences, which rely more on practical stunts than CGI. They also do this by retaining the buddy cop strands of the Bad Boys DNA while ridding it of some of Bay's explosive excesses. There are still some nifty action set pieces spread throughout, including a particularly memorable high-speed motorcycle chase. They even display their playful side by casting a telenovela star (Kate del Castillo) in a film with a telenovela-like plot twist.
Bad Boys for Life may often seem witless but it is not entirely joyless — and it may just be the best entry in the franchise. If you were a fan of Smith and Lawrence's action comedy hijinks in the '90s, you will eagerly hope for a “Bad Boys 4 Life."
If you never really cared for the franchise in the first place, you will probably forget all about it by the time you walk out of the cinema to the food court.
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