The ‘Bad Boys’ are Back, and Are Kind Of Old
“We ride this thing ’till the wheels fall off,” boasts a strutting Will Smith. Is that a promise or a threat? Bad Boys for Life is the third installment in the Miami-set Bad Boys series, a fast-paced but no-rush franchise of high-octane movies that emerge Cicada-like every decade or so.
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by:Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah
Written by: Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alxander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Núñez, Kate del Castillo
Running time: 124 min
The pre-internet 1995 original was a sort of Lethal Weapon riff sprinkled with Pulp Fiction patter about a cautious married-with-children cop and his hothead partner tussling with vicious heroin heavies. The bloated 2003 sequel was an overplotted, over-the-top redux with international twists involving the Russian mafia and a Cuban drug lord.
Now, with this 2020 release, Bad Boys for Life is pivoting towards a Fast and Furious trajectory. It’s jettisoning the drug-deal clichés for fulsome platitudes about family, and supplementing its aging duo with a high-tech arsenal of elite millennials. It’s also positioning Smith and Lawrence to become action-film godfathers whose starring roles will probably recede into authority-figure cameos over future installments.
Perpetual bachelor Mike Lowrey (Smith) is putting “Midnight Cocoa Bean” dye in his goatee, homeboy Marcus Bennett (Martin Lawrence) becomes a Pop-Pop when his daughter give birth to his first grandson. “Wear your glasses!” nags Mike as failing eyesight makes Marcus miss yet another target. In the wise words of Danny Glover, they are now officially getting too old for this shit.
But sinister Mexican MILF Isabel “La Bruja” Aretas (Kate del Castillo) uses her witchy wiles to bust out of Santa Maria Ixcotel Prison, then charges her intense young son to murder the people who put her there. Best-for-last on her hit list? Mike Lowrey. And that means Mike gets a gutful of bullets on Ocean Drive. The near-death experience makes Marcus take an early retirement, but throws single-life Mike into a bind rage. He almost died, and he hasn’t even started to live yet. “Where are you going?” asks wise but Pepto-Bismol-guzzling Captain Conrad Howard (Joe Pantoliano). Good question.
Bad Boys for Life is more pensive than a steroidal generic cop flick should be, and that’s part of its heavy-handed charm. Maybe that’s nostalgia at work, since the original film starred a pre-Independence Day, pre-Men in Black Will Smith. And a pre-The Rock, pre-Armaggeddon, pre-Transformers Michael Bay was at the helm. Now that these guys have had the mega-success professional arc and are now looking at the Back-Nine of their careers, they’re getting sentimental about a formative experience and re-thinking how to resuscitate its mojo.
Bay passed on the directing baton, but still makes a cameo here and knows full well that the fingerprints of his bloviating auteurist style are all over this project anyway. And, God bless ’em, Smith and Lawrence still have an endearing chemistry that seems to bring out the best in each other. Yes, there’s the inevitable “One last time” dialogue exchange. Yes, they say “Bad Boys” three times in the first 30 minutes. But they also say things like “I’m trying to penetrate his soul with my heart” and “I don’t want to fight.” Of course, they still maim and kill dozens of criminals, but still.