Bad Boys for Life (2020)
Ride Together. Die Together.
For most eighties-nineties kids, 1995’s Bad Boys redefined the buddy-cop blockbuster. The slick actioner — which followed a couple of hot-headed narcotics cops bustin’ baddies in a sun-kissed Miami — was absurdly entertaining, its success proving that black actors could be movie stars too. Produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the hyper-kinetic action-comedy was Michael Bay’s first film as a director. Bad Boys also kick-started a big-screen career for Big Willie Smith, who, until then, was known for his small-screen work on The Fresh Prince of Bel‑Air (1990-96). Eight years later, a more-established Bay returned for the long-awaited follow-up, Bad Boys II (2003), a film that was so wild, unrestrained, and bombastic that it seemed to have two sequels worth of content crammed into one. Irrespective of its naysayers, Bad Boys II remains an apex of action cinema, and the franchise’s pinnacle — heck, its insane freeway chase alone has yet to be topped.
Since then, there have been talks of a third chapter with filmmaker Joe Carnahan, Smokin’ Aces (2006), originally tapped to direct before delays forced him to bow out. What caused these delays? Well, numerous factors, such as scheduling conflicts, budgetary issues (Bay’s directing salary combined with Smith’s would have been too large for the studio), and release concerns with several of the more favorable dates having been snapped up by other big-name films.
In any case, things seem to have fallen into place as Bay (who remains on board as producer) hands the directing reigns over to Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Black (2015), who expand and grow the series in exciting and unexpected ways, the duo keeping the fun, explosive energy of the former outings whilst dialing down on the misanthropic mean-spiritedness synonymous with Bay’s body of work (which I find fascinating). While Bay’s absence is certainly felt, this third Bad Boys chapter, which comes to us 17 years after the sequel, is about as good as a non-Bay directed installment could possibly be, Boy Boys for Life retaining most of the Bay-isms (the gritty atmosphere, amusing banter, and action-packed adrenaline) that made Bad Boys I and II some of the best, most insane action flicks around.
The story picks up with detectives/ life-partners Michael ‘Mike’ Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) zooming around the hyper-colored streets of Miami in Mike’s shiny blue Porsche as they make their way to the hospital to see Marcus’s daughter Megan (Bianca Bethune) give birth to a baby boy. With Marcus now a grandfather, he decides that it’s time to retire, promising his wife Theresa (Theresa Randle) that he’ll quit the force for good. Mike, however, isn’t ready to throw in the towel, Smith’s hotshot ladies’ man eager to continue living a carefree (and childless) life on the edge.
Meanwhile, in a Mexican prison, ruthless inmate Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo) escapes from her incarceration, reuniting with her son Armando (Jacob Scipio) to take vengeance on those involved in the death of her husband, the late leader of a prominent criminal syndicate. Naturally, Mike Lowrey is at the top of their hit list. With Mike now an enemy target, things get personal for the playboy detective, with his enigmatic past coming back to haunt him. Desperate for help, Mike turns to Marcus to back him up, and the ‘boys’ team up for one last ‘ride together, die together.’
Penned by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, The Town (2010), and Joe Carnahan, Bad Boys for Life is a little more thoughtful and reflective than the earlier entries. You see, filmmakers Adil and Bilall have eased off the breaks in order to explore the dilemmas that Lowrey and Burnett (who are now in their fifties and in the midst of a mid-life crisis) are going through in fun and amusing ways; both men are a little slower, Mike dyes his greying goatee, Marcus needs glasses, and so on. Given that they’re getting older, the pair are also a bit more contemplative this time around, questioning their own moralities and the legacies they wish to one day leave behind.
Of course, we still get the slick, off-the-charts old-fashioned action sequences fans have come to expect from a Bad Boys film, albeit less jerky, frantic and fast-paced. The highlights are a wild motorbike-and-sidecar pursuit that sees Lawrence snap at Smith while firing an M60, and the bloody VFX-heavy finale that takes place at an old palace in Mexico involving crashing helicopters and a lot of CGI flames. Along the way, we’re treated to a number of surprising shocks and revelations, some of which managed to hit me for a six. Keeping with the aesthetic of Bay’s duology, the cinematography by Robrecht Heyvaert, Revenge (2017), is on point and visually enticing, while the pumping score by composer Lorne Balfe, 6 Underground (2019), (which pays tribute to Mark Mancina’s ’95 score) elevates tension.
On top of all this, we get a bunch of great Easter eggs and throwbacks to the previous films, including the original ‘Bad Boys’ song by Inner Circle (Marcus still doesn’t know the lyrics) and a cameo from Michael Bay himself. I was hoping we’d get to see Gabrielle Union reprise her role as Marcus’s sister Syd (she gets a mention), but I guess this would have been tough, seeing as her character has moved to Los Angeles in her very own spin-off series named L.A.’s Finest (2019), where she’s cleaning up the streets of California with Jessica Alba.
Performances are very strong across the board, with leads Will Smith and Martin Lawrence clearly happy to be back, both men giving it 110%. Smith still looks fantastic, and his Mike retains the desirable edginess from the previous installments, but Smith imbues Lowrey with a smidge of loneliness in his older age, which ultimately gives the character more depth. Lawrence hasn’t lost his mojo either, the fifty-four-year-old delivering the comic goods as the wise-cracking Marcus, who, just like Mike, is grappling with his own demons, too. Even after all these years, the duo’s chemistry is still electric, with most of the comedy hitting its mark (a scene on a plane is comedy gold). Joe Pantoliano, Memento (2000), is back as Captain Howard as well, Mike and Marcus’ commanding officer, who knows he’s in for a helluva time whenever the ‘bad boys’ are doing their thing.
The new characters are excellent, too. Paola Núñez, The Son (2017-19), is saucy as Rita, a former flame of Lowrey’s who’s running a new police unit known as AMMO (Advance Miami Metro Operations), which Smith refers to as ‘a high school musical boyband with guns.’ Ex-High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens, though, is convincing as ballistics expert Kelly; Riverdale’s Charles Melton is perfectly cast as Rafe, an amusing personification of Mike’s anxieties (the hunky young cop taunts Mike by mocking his age and calling him things like grandpa); and Vikings’ Alexander Ludwig hits the right notes as a burly yet gentle-hearted tech guy named Dorn, who dislikes fieldwork because he’s too scared of hurting bad guys.
Speaking of bad guys, Kate del Castillo, The 33 (2015), makes for a memorable foe as Isabel, the witchy widow of a Mexican drug lord. Newcomer Jacob Scipio is good as her mysterious son Armando, an efficient killer who is determined to take down anyone involved in his father’s death. And oh, look out for smaller roles from musicians DJ Khaled, Pitch Perfect 3 (2017), and Nicky Jam, xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017), who play a couple of goons named Manny the Butcher and Zway-Lo.
Yes, I’m just as amazed as you are, but Bad Boys for Life is a real triumph — it’s a worthy continuation to the Bad Boys saga that can be enjoyed by anybody (having seen the previous chapters isn’t mandatory to have a great time here). Sure, Bad Boys III might not be as good as Bay’s earlier entries, but given the tripe that’s coming out of Sony lately, who are desperately attempting to re-boot older properties — um, Charlie’s Angels, 2016’s all-female Ghostbusters — I’m genuinely surprised. If the same level of quality continues, this 25-year-old franchise may still have a couple of good bullets left in its chamber.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie