It’s been 17 years since we last saw the “Bad Boys” detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence). Since then, old age has started to set in for the duo— Marcus is pondering retirement as he’s become a granddad while Mike tries to deny his midlife crisis. However, both are forced to face a dark secret from Mike’s past that starts gunning for them and their friends. To stop this threat, the Bad Boys will have to team up with AMMO, a group of millennial cops, and face the facts: age is catching up to them and it may be time for one last ride.
I’m going to be blunt – I’ve never been a “Bad Boys” fan, and didn’t even check out the first two until I marathoned them in preparation with a friend who was, in contrast, a huge fan of them. The previous movies didn’t win me over, and while there were things to enjoy in both, they just weren’t for me. The road to this one didn’t point to a great movie either, as the trailers were lacking, it was released in the dumping ground that is the month of January and the new directors were unknown to me.
And yet . . . this new one is kinda awesome. “Bad Boys For Life” is not only a pretty fun action movie, but is by far the best in the entire series and a good start to 2020.
First, the chemistry between Smith’s Mike and Lawrence’s Marcus is still strong even after 17 years and they don’t miss a beat. In fact, I’m going to say that I enjoyed seeing these guys together way more than I did the last two times. Lawrence’s character is not only given more time to shine in the action sequences, but he also held my attention in a few solid emotional moments where he talks to Mike about how age is catching up to them and how he’s worried that his friend may be burning himself out from the constant search for an adrenaline rush.
As Mike Lowrey, Smith gives his best performance in a long while and I actually came to care about Mike in this movie. Previously, he was just kind of a hotheaded, homophobic jerk who only really had the novelty of Will Smith playing an incredibly brash anti-hero. Here, his reckless behavior actually gets him in trouble and while he still has a few moments, he gets knocked down a few pegs for it. Also, he’s way more open to Marcus in this movie and while they bickered every now and then, I was able to see why they’d been friends for over 25 years and root for them. There is genuine heart in both of their performances and they weren’t lacking in laughs either.
The supporting cast is also pretty dope, with series newcomers Paola Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton and Alexander Ludwig providing more moments of levity as the members of AMMO. Another thing I liked about the new vs. old dynamic was that despite some earlier condescension between Melton’s character and Lowrey, there isn’t any ‘old does it better’ garbage like in the recent “Shaft,” nor did they take over the movie like in “Expendables 3.” Their screen time was balanced and they were good additions to the franchise.
Also, it was great to have Joe Pantoliano as the hair-trigger tempered Captain Howard, who also gets time to shine outside of angrily badgering the Bad Boys. Even the villains have actual menace to them, whereas the last ones were goofy or boring.
Then there’s the action. While directors Arbi and Fallah do emulate some of that Michael Bay editing and cinematography, the action seems to have some deliberate restraint. Explosions still happen, but they’re toned down so we’re not desensitized to them, and the camerawork and staging keep the action coherent and easy to follow. While there is some heavy CGI in some parts, especially during the climax, the directors really get to stretch their creative muscles with some unique camerawork and choreography during the climax and a memorable scene involving a sidecar with a machine gun strapped to it.
I recommend “Bad Boys For Life” as not only an above-average action blast, but as an encapsulation of all the best parts of the franchise with few of its weaknesses. Whether you’re a fan or not, this is a good time at the theater.
Final rating: 3.5/5
Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh