Huh. Well, this is unexpected. Before yesterday, if you had asked me that eternal question of what bad boys were going to do, I would almost certainly have answered: “Probably be a disappointment”. A third Bad Boys film had been kicked around Hollywood for over a decade and a half, so hopes that original stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence could recapture the magic of their 1990s action hero glory days again were so low as to be subterranean. Hell, I already thought that they failed to capture the magic of the 1995 original film that introduced the odd couple duo of LA cops Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett with the absurdly over the top 2003 sequel. Now both men are long past their prime and director Michael Bay is instead being replaced by a couple of nobodies in Belgian TV directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. And yet, somehow they’ve all made it work.
That appears to be the surprisingly positive general consensus coming out of the first reviews for Bad Boys For Life that hit the net this morning. Nobody is declaring this long-gestating threequel the new greatest thing in the action genre, but by nearly all accounts Smith and Lawrence reignite their chemistry thanks to a surprisingly character-rich script (even if it gets ludicrous in places) while Arbi and Fallah direct very solid action thrills. At the time of writing, Bad Boys for Life was sitting on a 78% Fresh rating on RottenTomatoes, which is actually better than Frozen II. Consider me thoroughly surprised.
Here are a few snippets from the early reviews:
From the very first sequence of a screeching Porsche burning up the streets of South Beach, El Arbi and Fallah prove that as directors, they have the horsepower to match Bay, if not the grace yet. Nevertheless, their first major American feature outing is a loving and skillful tribute to pure ’90s action cinema, and it’s a hoot for fans of the franchise.
That’s largely because Martin Lawrence is back, baby! After popping up in a small but memorable role in Harmony Korine’s “The Beach Bum” last year, Lawrence returns to full-blown movie stardom and walks away with “Bad Boys for Life,” reminding audiences what a crucial element he is to the unique mix of action and comedy that makes the “Bad Boys” work.
At almost every stage in the script by newcomer Chris Bremner and veterans Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan, matters become more layered and complicated than they first appeared; older cops feel younger ones creeping up behind them, which simply adds to their anxiety, while the long arm of former intimacies ensnares them in maddeningly, even tragically vexing, dilemmas from which there can be no simple way out.
But if all the main characters carry some heavy, even tragic burdens with them wherever they go, the writers also supply them with plenty of good times. Smith and Lawrence are as funny together as they ever were, the former giving the latter plenty of abuse about folding his tent so early until Marcus, in extremis, agrees to go into battle “one last time.”
Smith hasn’t lost any of his macho cool as fast-driving, shoot-first-and-read-Miranda-rights-later lawman Mike Lowrey and Lawrence is still hilarious as his slightly more responsible partner Marcus Burnett in “Bad Boys for Life” , a retro affair tailor-made for those who adored the action movies of the 1990s. (Seriously, if you miss the days of slow-motion explosions and hero shots set to a bombastic score, grab your Oakleys and buckle up.)
The young co-directors, who are billed, in the casual manner of their generation, simply as Adil and Bilall, bring a breath of fresh air and fun energy to a franchise that felt somewhat stale, even 25 years ago, when the first film was likened, not inaccurately, to a carbon copy of “Lethal Weapon.” Adil and Bilall aren’t reinventing the wheel here. “Bad Boys for Life” is very much in the spirit of the first two films — cacophonous, at times preposterous, hyperviolent, coarse, silly — but a quarter of a century on from “Bad Boys,” it both acknowledges and punctures the absurdity of two 50-ish men, slower, more thickly upholstered versions of their former selves, as action heroes.
The first smart decision that this new entry makes is kicking Bay to the curb. Though the filmmaker does a cameo in (mock?) tribute to his contributions, he’s been replaced by film-school colleagues Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Moroccan-born directors who like being billed as Adil and Bilall. These thirtysomething Muslims, raised in Belgium, have a Bay-like need to blow shit up. But their movie still feels touched by human hands, which is saying a lot given the standard-issue plot, clumsy dialogue and right-wing politics festering in the script by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan, Better yet, the duo know how to bring out the best in their stars by staying out their way and letting them fly. And boy, do they ever.
“Bad Boys for Life” is the sort of thing I suspect we’re going to be seeing more and more of: the sequel to a long-done franchise that may now be an all-too-obvious cash grab and infusion of movie-star brand enhancement, but doesn’t play like one. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence bring their A game; they never let us feel like they’re going through the motions. The marks may be standard issue, but they hit them with fury and flair.
“Bad Boys for Life” is a lavishly conventional cop movie and a comedy of cranky fast camaraderie. It’s a meditation on the fine-wine élan of its two veteran stars. It’s a Mexican-drug-cartel thriller in the vein of the “Sicario” films, with a weirdly personal twist. It’s an over-the-top Bruckheimer highway-chase-and-gigantic-gun-and-exploding-hacienda blowout. That it works at all is a testament to how even an entertainment rooted in this much formula extravagance can now seem comfortingly old-fashioned.
As directed by the Moroccan-born Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, “Bad Boys for Life” may be a frantic visual blur but it’s razor-sharp thematically. Its mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a jaded 2020 audience glad to see these guys again. The movie’s not the point. The boys are the point.
The movie doesn’t [care about the plot] and its major reveal is ridiculous bordering on insane. But “Bad Boys for Life” is the sort of shiny, energetic mess audiences won’t mind.
Granted, action maestro Michael Bay is no longer at the helm (although he does bless the proceedings with a brief cameo), but directing team Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have clearly studied his filmography, which includes blowing stuff up real good.
For all the pyrotechnics, the movie is frankly at its best in the quieter moments — relative and sporadic though they may be — that give the two leads a chance to play off each other, with Lawrence wringing laughs from that squabbling, foul-mouthed banter. (Joe Pantoliano also reprises his role as their perpetually agitated boss.)
Of course, there were some that didn’t enjoy the film at all though, with the biggest criticisms being that the film tends to just be a retread of past 90s blockbusters. Honestly though, I kind of like that.
Bad Boys for Life opens in cinemas locally on Friday, 24 January 2020.
Last Updated: January 16, 2020