Directed by Adil and Bilall
Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Paola Nuñe
Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?
Well, if you’re a bad boy with an eye toward the future, you ditch the noisy, obnoxious aesthetic that got you noticed in the first place and let younger blood into the game. And, thankfully, 17 years after its last trip to the screen, the Bad Boys franchise decided to follow this advice, effectively silencing naysayers asking if another “Ride together, die together” trip was necessary.
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Bad Boys for Life is easily the best entry in the franchise, and that’s largely because Belgian directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (they’re billed by their first names only—talk about claiming first-name-only prominence before you’re even due!) know when to tweak the property’s trademark flourishes for self-aware humor, and when to pay homage to it to amp up emotion. More refreshingly, the duo eschew Bay’s incoherent, chopped-up edits and opt for longer shots in their action sequences, making sure you know where the leads and the villains are at all times.
The movie opens with partners Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) leading police on a high-octane chase…only to have it revealed that the reason for all the mayhem is Burnett rushing to the hospital for his daughter’s impending delivery of his grandson. It’s the first of many gags that play sleights-of-hand tricks with your expectations, most of them acknowledging the leads’ advancing ages. Elsewhere, there are jokes about needing to wear glasses and dyeing goatees black.
But there’s a serious case underpinning all the age jokes: Mike finds himself in the crosshairs of a relentless assassin (Jacob Scipio) unleashed upon him by an escaped drug cartel queen (Kate del Castillo). What’s most surprising about the plot is that it manages to convey actual emotional stakes: A startlingly heartbreaking thing happens over the course of the narrative, and a late-breaking revelation adds unexpected heft to Marcus’ nagging at Mike’s hollow Miami lifestyle of flashy rides and drive-by romantic involvements.
Meanwhile, Mike and Marcus are forced to work with a task force populated by tech-savvy, magazine-ready newbies headed by Mike’s former girlfriend Rita (Paola Nuñez): appropriately awed Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), former bouncer with a trauma Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), and cocky Rafe (Charles Melton). The movie can’t give them ample space to strut all their stuff just yet, but somehow these photogenic actors get a few licks in. It’s one sign that the Bad Boys franchise is taking a page out of the Fast & Furious playbook, opening up its core team to the entrance of fresh characters that might be able to hotwire the plot if needed. (Another sign is the presence of a mid-credits sequence.) With the toxic masculinity of Michael Bay’s ethos a distant figure in its rearview mirror (but maybe not distant enough—the director makes an awkward cameo), Bad Boys for Life turns out to be good Bad Boys.
Photographs from CTMG, Inc.