Bad Boys for Life (2020)
Directors: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah
Screenwriters: Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jacob Scipio, Kate del Castillo, Joe Pantoliano, Paola Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig
Whatcha gonna do when the threequel comes for you? For those whom the Bad Boys franchise (“You ain’t seen Bad Boys II?”) passed by, the series follows two Miami-based narcotics detectives who get the job done, one way or another. If you came back for a third helping after seventeen years, you clearly feel some affection for these characters. But Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) have changed over two decades, and it’s not just that Mike is a little slower and with a salt-and-pepper beard, or that Marcus is now a grandad who refuses to wear his glasses…
After 25 years of partnership in the Miami PD, Detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett are older but not necessarily wiser. Mike still does whatever it takes to get the bad guys but Marcus has had his fill of action and is looking to retire and spend more time with his growing family. When a figure from Mike’s past resurfaces seeking revenge, the Bad Boys must ride one more time, but they’ll need help in order to face modern threats.
Bad Boys fans can take comfort in the fact that there are plenty of callbacks to the previous two movies (yes, Marcus damages another of Mike’s nice cars and he hasn’t forgotten that time his partner shot him in the ass cheek) but also, weirdly, there are call backs and references to events we haven’t seen too. I suppose we want to believe these characters lived their lives between the movies, but you spend half the time trying to remember whether you’re forgetting something, or whether you’ve never actually seen someone in this series before. Did Mike previously have this love interest? Was there ever any indication he was given covert missions straight out of the academy? It didn’t work in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and it doesn’t really work here either.
Smith and Lawrence slip comfortably back into the roles and still bounce off each other well, while Joe Pantoliano also returns as their stressed captain and makes you wish he was still in more movies while he’s at it. The new tech-savvy strike team the boys are forced to work with (AMMO – no I don’t remember what the acronym stands for) are a neat addition, though the characters themselves, played by actors including a kick-ass Vanessa Hudgens and the gentle giant Alexander Ludwig, do feel somewhat like a box-checking exercise.
For Life certainly hews tonally closer to the first film than Bad Boys II, which was more of a cop drama with one-liners than a cartoony all-out action juggernaut. The new Bad Boys isn’t po-faced and is generally pretty breezy, but there’s some dark stuff here, some biggish dramatic beats and at no point does a bad guy throw 20 cars and a boat at our heroes during a chase scene.
The action, made up of various chases, gunfights and fistfights is pretty punchy throughout and pleasingly isn’t edited into incoherence as franchise originator Michael Bay was often guilty of (isn’t it nice to be able to actually see what’s going on?). There is one OTT Bad Boys II-level-silly sequence with Mike and Marcus in a motorbike and sidecar that’s a bit like ‘Wallace and Gromit’ with explosions, but it’s played with warmth and laughs as the driving factors. Perhaps even more positively, they’ve finally ditched all the uncomfortable “no homo” jokes too, again perhaps because of Bay’s exit.
The finale, a particularly violent shootout in a ruined gothic tower highlights directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah as prime candidates for the “Gears of War” movie if it ever gets off the ground.
What’s refreshing is that a big, fun action film was not over-thought – they know this is just a simple revenge movie and what drives the key players’ actions – both our lead pair and the colourful villains they’re up against (Jacob Scipio and Kate del Castillo) are unmistakable. What’s disheartening is that all the supporting players (especially the Bad Boys’ respective significant others) are quickly sidelined by plot shenanigans that can be seen from a mile away.
Bad Boys for Life is by no means original and won’t win the series any new fans, but it’s a slickly executed actioner and will make devotees hopeful for another “one last ride” with the boys. Where Mike and Marcus could possibly go next is anyone’s guess, but an intriguing possibility is set up at this film’s close.