Movies

Bad Boys For Life Review – Not Getting Older, Getting Better

It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since the original Bad Boys hit theaters in spring 1995. It was a cool, slick, kinetic action flick that acted as not only the coming-out party of director Michael Bay but was the coronation vehicle for its two lead mega-stars. Bad Boys 2 (2003) took the insanity to another level, prompting the question of where a follow-up could even go. Well, a lot can change in 25 years, but that doesn’t need to be a bad thing.

The new film picks up with Miami cops Mike Lowry (pronounced ‘Mike Lowwrry’, played by Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence). Marcus, a newly minted grandpa, wants to retire from the force, in part due to the guilt he feels over the lives he’s taken. Mike, on the other hand, feels like he’s in his prime and wants the party to keep going. This is particularly apparent in scenes where Mike spouts such hip phrases as “Turn Up!” and “Miss me with that bullshit!” It’s not a good look, but at least the movie is aware.

Meanwhile, Mike unknowingly becomes the target of a revenge plot from a crime boss (Kate del Castillo) and her sadistic son (Jacob Scipio), possibly in retribution for the fate of her husband. This eventually entangles Mike into a fight for his life and a confrontation with his dark past, all while lobbying against Marcus’ desires to fade into the sunset. In addition, the film makes a play at having a consciousness that wasn’t present in its predecessors. While the first two films featured violence with impunity, here the chickens have come home to roost. Now, Marcus has been re-purposed as a God-fearing family man, in opposition to Mike’s cavalier brutality. The contrasting views eventually lead to a compromise; Mike doesn’t have to do a complete 180, but he does have slow down and reconsider his values.

For a delayed sequel such as this, it can be easy to ask “why does this exist!!” But Bad Boys For Life does not feel like an unnecessary extension of the franchise, mostly because it introduces new elements while honoring, but not being subservient to, the past. There are callbacks to past lines and fan-favorite moments. Joe Pantoliano is back as Captain Howard, to yell and scream, but ultimately act as a father figure for Mike and Marcus. Theresa Randle returns as Marcus’ perpetually annoyed wife, Theresa, whose tolerance of the guys’ inane antics drive home their inability to grow up.

While all the familiar elements are there, the new additions make the film truly stand out as a sequel. A.M.M.O is introduced as a new division at the Miami PD, established to be a more efficient squad than the normally reckless Lowry and Burnett. The team consists of Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), Rafe (Charles Melton), and Mike’s old flame Rita (Paola Núñez). It’s their banter and confrontations with Mike, who’s convinced his style is the only way to bring down the bad guys, is what makes the film feel fresh yet familiar while establishing the group as likable heroes to get attached to. Oh, also DJ Khaled makes an appearance. He mostly just yells DJ Khaled things. His appearance is very brief, thankfully.

It should be noted that Michael Bay does not return to direct (although he has a small cameo role), and his absence shows. While Bad Boys For Life attempts to mimic the style of the conspicuous filmmaker, it never quite feels like a Bay film. As a result, co-directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi have crafted a style that feels like Bay-lite. The money shots and action scenes feel stylistic, but don’t go to the extremes that Bay would take it. The comedy, both physical and verbal, is absurd – but Bay would have taken it a step further in depravity. Your mileage will vary on which style you prefer, but Bad Boys For Life feels like a safer film despite its many F-bombs and bloody splatters. It can be said that the Bad Boys films have become increasingly silly; a trajectory that continues here as it’s implied that the main villain dabbles in dark magic. However, the film never quite goes full Indiana Jones to explore this element, but it does make for a third act that feels more like a genre remix than we’re used to in these films.

What the film ultimately lacks the kinetic energy from prior films is made up by simply giving the audience a crowd-pleaser that feels like old friends coming home. Both Smith and Lawrence truly feel like their having fun; for Lawrence in particular, it’s refreshing to see him in the material that isn’t beneath him after witnessing the last 20 years of his filmography. While the Smith-Lawrence duo isn’t as rapturous together as the previous installments (hard to expect them to be when they’re no longer in their primes), their connection comes with an added emotional component that wasn’t present in the previous films.

It’s partially nostalgia, and partially a melancholy appreciation that these stars are still willing to return to a series that helped make them famous. It’s hard to make sequels of decades-old series to feel like anything but a cash grab. But the quickest way to make new installments feel worthless is to give the audience a re-run of what we’ve already seen. Bad Boys For Life doesn’t do that, and it’s for that reason that there’s still some life left in this old dog.

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