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Bad Boys for Life Movie Review

Bad Boys for Life (2020) movie poster Bad Boys for Life

Theatrical Release: January 17, 2020 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: R

Directors: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah / Writers: Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan (story & screenplay); Chris Bremner (screenplay)

Cast: Will Smith (Mike Lowrey), Martin Lawrence (Marcus Burnett), Vanessa Hudgens (Kelly), Alexander Ludwig (Dorn), Charles Melton (Rafe), Paola Nunez (Rita), Kate Del Castillo (Isabel Aretas), Nicky Jam (Zway-Lo), Joe Pantoliano (Captain Howard), Jacob Scipio (Armando Aretas), Theresa Randle (Theresa Burnett), Khaled (DJ Khaled) Khaled (Manny), Happy Anderson (Jenkins), Bianca Bethune (Megan Burnett), Dennis McDonald (Reggie), Michael Bay (Wedding MC)


Released smack in the middle of the 1990s, the action comedy Bad Boys would launch two of the most commercially formidable movie careers of the next two decades: director Michael Bay and star Will Smith. Seasoned in music videos and commercials,
Bay was making his feature debut, turning just 30 shortly before release. Smith, already a music and television star at just 26, had made a couple of movies but got his first chance to shine on a big canvas. Made for only $19 million, Bad Boys grossed well over $100 M worldwide and Smith never looked back, proceeding to star in the biggest hits of the next two years, Independence Day and Men in Black.

When Bay, Smith, and co-star Martin Lawrence reunited for 2003's Bad Boys II, the stakes were a lot higher. This sequel carried a budget of $130 million and seized a mid-summer opening. By then, nothing less was expected of a big Will Smith movie. Though panned by critics, it still played the part of a summer blockbuster, albeit one unusually dark, violent, and outlandish compared to Smith's signature four-quadrant cinema.

You might have assumed the franchise ended there. Everyone did, really. But Smith, having entered his fifties with star power intact even if his world-saving heroics are no longer a fixture of summer moviegoing, and Lawrence reunite in the not especially timely Bad Boys for Life, another attempt by Sony to mine an established brand. Bay, who went from a respected action filmmaker (The Rock, Armageddon) to the patron saint of mindless cinema (five Transformers movies) opts to produce but not direct this threequel, turning the reins over to young, largely unknown Belgian duo Adil & Bilall, whose full names are Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return as Miami police officers Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett in "Bad Boys for Life."

Arbi and Fallah would have been in elementary school when the first film came out, but having been thwarted trying to sneak into it on opening day (and having to endure Don Juan Demarco instead), I can tell you that at least in America, that wasn't too young for the R-rated Bad Boys to be on your radar. Since that middle school multiplex misstep, I actually never saw the original film or its sequel, until this past weekend when I watched both on Netflix.

I'd caught bits and pieces of the first film on television and the second in Hot Fuzz, so I figured I knew what to expect. To a degree, I did. The original film feels very much like a 1980s cop flick, with its generic drug goon narrative and a tone that swings much further to action than comedy. The sequel is off the wall, full of expensive, explosive set pieces and a lot more corpse gags than you'd expect. If Bay was still finding his voice on the original, by the sequel, his appetite and reputation for big thrills had both developed and you imagine he didn't hear "no" often, if ever, from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the powers that be at Sony.

For this third installment, Smith and Lawrence are not the in-demand superstars they were, but they're also not washed-up or forgotten. Lawrence has been scarce on the big screen over the past decade, his appearance in last year's atrocious Harmony Korine/Matthew McConaughey flick The Beach Bum his first in-character film work since 2011's Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (an ill-received threequel that apparently didn't turn him off from this). But with the young blood at the helm and a screenplay that holds as much respect and knowledge of the series as it warrants, Bad Boys for Life does not reek of desperation or feel like a band that shouldn't still be playing the old hits in concert.

Veteran cops Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Lowrey (Will Smith) are tapped to consult Miami's AMMO unit of savvy millennials (Charles Melton, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig) and its chief (Paola Nunez) to try to find the man who shot Lowrey and uploaded a video to the Internet.

Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are still detectives and partners in the Miami Police Department, where over the course of the past quarter-century they've become legends. With the birth of his first grandchild, though,
Marcus is ready to retire. Mike, on the other hand, is not. The two of them decide to let an impromptu foot race decide their professional futures with good old Captain Conrad Howard (Joe Pantoliano, returning for his biggest film credit in years) saying "go."

The amusing sight of middle-aged men racing each other on the streets of Miami fades when Mike gets shot four times at close range by a man on a blacked-out motorcycle. It's a stunning turn of events for the cop heralded as "bulletproof." Although he predictably does not die, after months of recovery, Mike finds it difficult to convince the Captain to let him find who shot him and to convince Marcus to further delay retirement for one last mission.

Captain Howard reluctantly agrees to let Mike consult on the investigation that is being headed by the AMMO unit, which is run by Rita (Paola Nunez), a love interest he hasn't made a move on, and employs some millennials (Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton) as its tech-savvy talent. There's some generational humor, but nothing too hard to swallow and again, despite the comedy, the film takes its plot completely seriously, pitting Mike against a Mexican woman who has escaped from prison (Kate del Castillo) and her bloodthirsty son (Jacob Scipio).

Bad Boys for Life is not noticeably better or worse than its two predecessors, which given the long hiatus and the usual concerns it raises might be enough to qualify this sequel as a success. Any praise the franchise warrants is moderate. It's never been clever or challenging cinema. Though not as dated as some of their genre contemporaries (mainly due to Smith and Lawrence being young then, sticking around, and aging well), both films are very much a product of their times (and in the original's case, a decade past). They're the kind of fun diversions you leave on TBS to pay half-attention to as you multi-task. Apart from Nick Frost's character in the aforementioned Hot Fuzz, there isn't the passion surrounding either Bad Boys movie you find on Die Hard or even more recent Fast & Furious installments.

They're movies for and by guys, with little attempt or hope for women to see the appeal. They're not quantifiably bad, like Bay's Transformers movies were. They're not clearly good, as Smith's better star vehicles have been. Action isn't a genre in danger of disappearing and the chemistry and charisma of the two leading men here are enough to keep things diverting, even if the writing doesn't thrill you and the stunts make no attempt to upstage Mission: Impossible.

Opening in January is usually a bad sign and yet the worst thing you can say about Bad Boys for Life is that it's familiar and short on surprises. It's clearly a notch above Smith's last action vehicle, the fall flop Gemini Man for director Ang Lee. And it's considerably more enjoyable than the film it opens across from, Robert Downey Jr.'s miscalculated Dolittle.

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Reviewed January 17, 2020.

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