Released: January 2020
Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Budget: $90 million
Stars: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jacob Scipio, Kate del Castillo, Paola Núñez, and Joe Pantoliano
Seventeen years after their last adventure, top detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are just coming to terms with the realities of aging out of their usefulness when a series of murders with links to Mike past besiege Miami.
Bad Boys (Bay, 1995) and its sequel (ibid, 2003) took a simple concept (the “buddy cop” movie perhaps made most famous by the Lethal Weapon (Donner, 1987 to 1998) franchise and other over-the-top eighties action films) and put a unique twist one it. Actually, two twists: one was the typical, over-the-top cinematography of Michael Bay (which ensured that the films were full of explosions, gun fights, scantily clad women for us to ogle over, and dramatic, sweeping camera pans) and the charisma of the two leads. Given the massive gap between Bad Boys II and Bad Boys For Life, you would be forgiven for thinking that the franchise was over and done with, however, while Bay took a step back from the project, this third entry shows that some things only get better with age.
Bad Boys For Life kicks off with an exhilarating car chase bit, rather than see our two bickering heroes running down some coked up perp, they are simply racing to witness the birth of Marcus’s granddaughter. This event is enough to convince Marcus that, perhaps, his bad boy days are over and he and Mike should quit while they’re ahead, which sets an ongoing tone for the film (that of age, maturity, and family).
Mike, however, isn’t quite ready to give up life on the streets for domestication, even though his ex-girlfriend Rita (Núñez) is right there, massively attractive, and clearly still has a thing for him. His exuberance turns to aggression and a thirst for vengeance, however, when he is targeted by the mysterious assassin Armando Armas (Scipio) and his revenge-fuelled mother, Isabel (del Castillo). Denied the opportunity to involve himself in the case by the wonderfully energetic Police Captain Conrad Howard (Pantoliano), Mike is forced to work alongside Rita and her young, tech-savvy team while trying to convince Marcus that they still have enough gas left in the tank for one last ride.
Bad Boys For Life is a loud, fast-paced movie with a surprising amount of pathos amidst its car cashes, gun fights, and near-constant bickering between the two leads. While there aren’t as many ludicrous explosions (thanks largely in part to Bay not being behind the camera), the film contains just enough Bay-isms to keep fans of the series happy while using the formally hot-headed and seemingly invincible main characters to explore the affects of age.
The charisma of Smith and Lawrence is unparalleled, matched only by Pantoliano’s scenery-chewing return as their tormented Captain, and it’s a good job that these guys are so compelling as Scipio isn’t that captivating as a villain. His main draw comes from his physicality and scary-smooth skill as a killer and a fighter and, while he does eventually reveal some surprising layers, it’s clear that this film is about Smith and Lawrence and the rest of the plot and action is superfluous. Not that this is a bad thing; the banter and bickering between the stars really makes their friendship believable and I could honestly just watch them cruising around, chatting shit, and roughing up bad guys for two hours. Luckily, there’s a bit of sauce on top of Bad Boys For Life that make it, perhaps, the strongest entry in the series so far.
The main twist in Bad Boys For Life comes from the revelation that Armando is actually Mike’s son from a fling he had with Isabel some twenty-five years ago; this was a twist that honestly came out of nowhere and led to a surprisingly heartfelt moment where Mike’s usual mask of confidence slipped and we learned a bit more of his past. This worked hand-in-hand with the prevailing themes of family and assuming the responsibilities that come from maturity; Marcus is happy to hang it up and be a doting father and grandfather and is almost desperate to convince Mike that he needs to hang up his gun as well and find someone to settle down with. While Mike fights against this, the moment he learns of Armando’s parentage, he instantly switches from wanting Armando dead for trying to kill him and gunning down Captain Howard to trying to reach and redeem his son. This doesn’t come across as a sudden shift, either, and serves only to humanise Mike in a way I wasn’t expecting, which is great because the film definitely leaves the door open at the end for one more last ride for the bad boys as they agree to continue policing the streets. The revelation that Mike is his father also subdues Armando and the ending shows that he is safely behind bars and remorseful enough to want to accept assignments from his father, potentially setting us up for another movie where the duo becomes a trio.
Bad Boys For Life is a loud, over-the-top buddy cop action film with plenty of gunplay, witty banter, and some thrilling action sequences. Surprisingly, you don’t need to check your brain or your heart at the door, either, as the film explores themes of family and aging and has some genuinely poignant moments alongside all the witty banter between the two leads, resulting in an engaging, thrill-ride that is, perhaps, the bets of the three movies.