Will Smith & Martin Lawrence reunite and reignite buddy-cop action franchise
Bad Boys for Life
Starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence
Directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilali Fallah
In theaters Jan. 17, 2020
Will Smith, you’re making us feel old.
First, in last year’s Gemini Man, his previous movie, he confronted a younger version of himself, a clone who outruns him, outguns him, outthinks him and generally reminds him just how many less miles than him he’s got on the odometer.
Now, in this sequel to a sequel—for which Smith also serves as one of the producers—the specter of advancing years again comes into play.
The Fresh Prince, after all, is now 51 years old.
In Bad Boys for Life, which comes 25 years after the original Bad Boys (1995) and 17 years after its follow-up, Bad Boys II, Smith reteams with Martin Lawrence as an inseparable Miami buddy-cop duo whose glory days—as well as their teamwork—may finally be at an end. Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) is a new grandfather, counting the days to his retirement with his family. Lone-wolf Mike Lowrey (Smith) has been reassigned to a new high-tech AMMO division, a “young guns” group of millennials with whom he has little in common.
Over drinks celebrating his imminent retirement, Burnett asks Lowrey why he doesn’t think about settling down, falling in love and getting out of police work. “Mike, we’ve got more time behind us than in front,” Burnett says.
But settling down, falling in love and getting out of police work wouldn’t make for much of a movie, would it?
What would make for a movie is a ruthless young Mexican cartel mob boss (Jacob Scipio) suddenly springing into action with a bloody revenge plan that leads back to something Lowrey did years ago. Frenetic car chases, a sniper who never seems to miss, a south-of-the-border sorceress, a long-ago secret, and enough ballistic, bombastic boom-boom to shake the salt off your popcorn—now that makes a movie. Just let yourself go and let the bullets flow.
At least it makes this movie, a high-spirited, action-packed blowout reunion that plays to the comedic strengths of its two marquee stars while giving them plenty of room to roam, lots of things to blast or blow up and a flowing stream of bickering-buddy humor. Michael Bay, the big-budget, blockbuster director (Armageddon, the Transformers series) who steered the first two Bad Boys flicks, did not return for this one, and Belgian filmmaking collaborators Adil El Arbi and Bilali Fallah try hard to please.
But their technique often feels all over the place; they love both super slo-mo and frenetic, high-speed time-lapses. The story unfolds in a herky-jerky mix of melodrama and mirth; it’s a movie melding sitcom silliness, overwrought Spanish telenovela excess and prime-time TV-procedural connect-the-dots. And the way the camera never seems to stop moving, even in extreme closeups, made me feel like I was always free-floating through every scene, like a teeny observer in a miniature Bad Boys hot-air balloon.
Veteran actor Joe Pantoliano reprises his role from previous Bad Boys as harried Capt. Howard, and younger audiences will enjoy seeing a couple of familiar faces (Vanessa Hudgens, and Charles Melton, who stars as Reggie on TV’s Riverdale) in the mix. Hulking Alexander Ludwing, from Vikings, seems to have fun, playing a decidedly non-Viking role as a mild-mannered hacker.
Let’s be real, though. Nothing else really matters about this movie other than the comeback of its two stars—who, in their two previous Bad Boys pairings, helped push its franchise past the $400-million mark. Smith, once one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws, and Lawrence, a standup comedian who—like Smith—successfully made the leap to TV and then movies, have undeniable chemistry and for-real movie mojo. Their banter is loose, lively and juicy with quippy, R-rated digs, disses and jive that audiences will love.
Everything tends to loosen when they’re apart, but it tightens and brightens whenever they’re together, especially when they’re roaring down streets, careening around curves or ripping up the asphalt in Lowrey’s 992-Generation Porshe, a motorcycle and sidecar or any other vehicle that’s handy. One particularly funny conversation happens in an airplane.
And this movie has heart, especially as Lowrey and Burnett reaffirm their bond of Bad Boys brotherhood, the movie’s larger theme of family expands to something wider than you might at first imagine, and Burnett grapples—in a way that’s ultimately played for laughs—with a spiritual issue.
“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?” That’s the tag to the song by the Jamaican reggae band Inner Circle, which became the theme to the movie franchise. You’ll hear it several times in this film.
And you’ll probably hear it in the next movie, Bad Boys 4, currently in the planning stages.
The “boys” of Bad Boys may be full-grown men now, but whatcha gonna do? You’re gonna want to see what high-octane hijinks Smith and Lawrence are up to this time, and probably the next time, too.