Review: BAD BOYS FOR LIFE, These Bad Boys Are Now Grumpy Old Men
It's not an easy thing to pick up a franchise sixteen years after the last entry, especially when so much has changed in the interim. The two Bad Boys films left inedible marks on their times, with the first film being an almost shockingly adept time capsule of the excesses of '90s action tropes, and its sequel proving to be an apex example of what has come to be known as "Bayhem", over-the-top action sequences that could only spring from the imagination of cajones of Michael Bay.
With Bad Boys For Life, Bay has left the building and he's been replaced by the Belgian directing team of Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, credited on-screen as Adil & Bilall, who attempt to resurrect the Bad Boys assumed eternal slumber for one last adventure. The resulting film is a startlingly mature, almost contemplative look at the effects of the passage of time on these rebellious cops, and while it still has a pretty fun vibe, I found the film to be lacking in the gonzo anything-goes energy of its predecessors.
Detectives Marcus Bennett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowery (Will Smith) have reached a crossroads in their partnership. Marcus has just become a grandfather, or Pop-Pop, and he's starting to feel his own mortality in a way that has him eager to hang up the badge. Lowery - a name only properly pronounced with an absurdly long drawl - on the other hand remains Miami's flashiest playboy, driving Porsches, clubbing all night, and set up in a million dollar penthouse that no police officer could ever possibly afford. Lowery is determined to ride this mission till the wheels fall off, and when Marcus lets him know that he's ready to step down, things start getting sticky.
An attempt on Lowery's life, however, gives them a new reason to hunker down and do the work only they can do. There's a new villain in town, Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio), a drug dealer with deep links to Lowery's past, but neither the crook nor the cop understand just how deep their connection goes until things get way out of hand and plenty of people pay the price for their feud.
The consequent adventure involves a few chases, a lot of guns, some flashy nightclub action, and plenty of I'm-too-old-for-this-shit jokes, of which many fall flat. All of the ingredients of the Bad Boys series are present, but I missed a lot of the balls out insane charm that Michael Bay's unique touch brought to the previous entries. The dialogue by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan felt extremely clichéd in spots, not altogether a deal breaker - it is an action blockbuster after all - the level of cliché felt beneath the two performers mouthing the lines.
With that in mind, if anything gives life to this largely flat action extravaganza, it is the performances of Lawrence and Smith, both of whom seem to enjoy living with these characters and embrace their maturity (Lawrence) and/or denial-based hubris (Smith). The best moments in the film aren't the chases, exploding helicopters, or bizarrely CG'd/undercranked fist fights with obvious stunt doubles, but those in which they confront their own challenges and discover that though they are choosing different paths forward, they can never truly be without one another.
Along for the ride are a cast of mostly young go-getters in the form of a new tech-based detective force nicknamed AMMO, an acronym for which I cannot recall the meaning. Consisting of a culturally diverse crew of beautiful people, AMMO provides backup to this team who much prefers going it alone, and manages to keep the proceedings hip while also mocking the geriatric heroes with "OK Boomer" level quips. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. A particular treat is Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), who plays a bouncer cum tech whiz who prefers to stay away from the action until the time is right, providing one of the most genuinely joyful moments of excess in the entire film.
Technically, the film adequately apes its antecedents with a few visual flourishes to let us know that there are new captains steering the ship. The filmmakers lovingly frame Smith and Lawrence as the heroes they want us to believe they are, even going so far as to recreate the famous "shit just got real" camera moves from the older films. It's a neat trick and it certainly does its job to feed the nostalgia beast, but apart from that there isn't much new under this sun. It's pretty, but also pretty empty.
On the whole, though, Bad Boys For Life felt like a flatly retold version of the original film, lacking in the kind of out of control ego that drove Bay's previous entries to become the icons of excessive action violence in their respective decades. It trades bombast for introspection, which, though it might be a respectable swap for some, left me wanting more and wondering why they couldn't do both. However, if I had to choose what I would've preferred, give me quips and bombast any day of the week.