BAD BOYS FOR LIFE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Adil and Bilall

Stars: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Jacob Scipio, Kate del Castillo, Paola Nunez, Alexnader Ludwig, Vaness Hudgens, Charles Melton, DJ Khaled, Michael Bay.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys for Life (2020)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a quarter of a century since we were first introduced to Miami detectives Mike Lowry (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) in Bad Boys, which was essentially a throw-back to the formulaic odd couple buddy cop movies that were popular in the 80s, with films like Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours and Midnight Run, etc. That film also introduced us to the brash, aggressive and kinetic filmmaking style of Michael Bay, who hailed from a background in music videos, and his unique style of mayhem and destruction.

The sequel Bad Boys II came out in 2003 and was more excessive in its approach to destruction and action sequences. Now seventeen years later we get this belated second sequel, and expectations were low given the history of most second sequels in a franchise – they are often disappointing and cynical exercises to cash in on a well- known brand. But Bad Boys For Life is actually the strongest film in the series yet. The dynamic chemistry between Smith and Lawrence is still as strong as it was 25 years ago, as the pair bicker and exchange rapid fire repartee.

However, in the 17 years since the last film a lot has changed in their lives. Burnett has just become a grandfather and is considering retirement. He has spent the better part of 25 years cleaning up the streets of Miami and has grown sick and tired of the death and destruction he has experienced in that time. But as Burnett eases into retirement, a threat from Mike’s past emerges that could change everything.

Isabel Aretas (Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, from The Book Of Life, etc) is the dangerous and vindictive matriarch of a drug cartel whom Mike arrested many years ago. With the help of her son Armando (Jacob Scipio, from The Outpost) she escapes from prison and sets out to destroy all those responsible for her incarceration. She wants to leave Mike until last so that he can experience the pain of watching the others die first. A number of high-profile assassinations is planned, and Mike himself narrowly escapes death after being targeted by Armando. 

He works with a new high-tech state of the art police unit known as AMMO (Advance Minami Metro Operations), the brainchild of their long suffering and frustrated captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano, reprising his role). The specialist unit is headed by Rita (Paola Nunez), a former flame of Mike’s, which leads to some sexual tension. While times may have changed for the police and their methodology, Mike and Marcus are still a bit old school in their approach to taking down criminals, which also leads to some tension within the unit and causes grief for their long suffering captain who tries to rein in their actions.

Bad Boys For Life has been written by first time writer Chris Bremner, Peter Craig (The Town, etc) and Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces, etc). The film manages to work in themes of aging, regrets, grief, revenge, friendship. It has been slickly directed by Moroccan born Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who work under the name of Adil and Bilall, who are best known for their homegrown streetwise crime films. They effectively replicate Bay’s aggressive and overly kinetic aesthetic style and his over the top approach to staging action sequences; there are plenty of car chases and shootouts on the streets of Miami, most of them shot old school without too much reliance on CGI effects, and destruction on a large scale. The pair certainly ramp up the action here, which has been shot in slick style by their regular cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert. Heyvaert also captures some great visuals of the neon lit streets of Miami that give us a strong sense of place.

AS usual though, much of the success of the film is down to the rapport between Smith and Lawrence. There is a sense of nostalgia in seeing the pair reunited after such a lengthy period. Smith has aged well over the 25-year period of the series, while Lawrence doesn’t seem to have weathered as well, but the physical contrast between the pair is played for laughs here. Smith hasn’t been this switched on for years, and brings an appropriate swagger, cockiness and physicality to his role. He also projects a vulnerability and pathos when he talks about his past. Lawrence’s weary appearance is played for laughs as he tries to settle into a comfortable retirement before Lowry drags him back into the action. Lawrence desperately needs a hit, as it is nearly a decade since his last film Big Momma’s 3 (2011). He still has great comic timing which is put to good use here.

Smith and Lawrence are ably supported by a cast that includes Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton and Alexander Ludwig as rookie Miami cops who rely on their gadgets and technology. Pantoliano is a welcome presence as their frustrated and perpetually cranky risk averse captain who tries to rein in Mike’s hot-headed approach.

Bad Boys For Life nicely sets itself up for another sequel (work has already begun on Bad Boys 4), and hopefully it will retain much of the elements that made this belated sequel so enjoyable. Leave your brain at the door, and just go along for the ride.

★★★☆

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