BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE Review: More of the Same, Just Different

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE Review: More of the Same, Just Different

After the Slap Heard (and Seen) Around the World, Will Smith, fresh off an Oscar win for King Richard, found himself in desperate need of image and reputational rehab.

The answer, as always, was clear: Return to the long-running series that catapulted a then 27-year-old Smith into mega-stardom. (No, not Independence Day. Smith starred in Independence Day a year later and the already forgotten sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, from several years back, didn’t include Smith, who opted out).

The series in question, the Michael Bay-directed Bad Boys, opened almost 30 years ago. A sequel followed eight years later, then nothing for 17 years until Bad Boys For Life became one of the few box-office hits of the pandemic’s early days.
Fast forward past the Slap to the near-present and Smith’s decision to give Bad Boys one more, possibly final go before aging and mortality take hold. Bringing back the semi-retired Martin Lawrence and Bad Boys For Life co-directors, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Adil and Bilali), turned out to be an easy sell.

For Adil and Bilali, helming another Bad Boys entry allowed them to continue refining their already substantial visual bag, doubling up as a two-hour sizzle reel for whatever comes next in their upward-trending career as filmmakers, including a rumored turn directing Disney's next, still untitled Spider-Man sequel.  
Overflowing with the usual bombast and excess of previous entries, Bad Boys: Ride or Die picks up not long after the events of the last entry. In the opening moments, Mike Lowery (Smith) and his longtime partner-in-crimefighting, Marcus Burnett (Lawrence), race through the bright, shining, overlit streets of Miami on a mission. Said mission?

After decades as a freewheeling, commitment-avoiding bachelor, Mike has decided to settle down. It’s his wedding day and true to form, he’s late for a very important date. Only racing through Miami at breakneck speed in his sports car can save the day.
In a sign of comedic things to come, a nauseous Marcus begs Mike for a quick stop at a corner market. Before he can pay for a ginger ale and (product placement alert), a bag of Skittles, a tattooed thug tries to rob the store.

While he’s quickly subdued, the incident reminds Mike of the day-to-day risks his professional life entails, plus everything – and everyone – he’s lost throughout three-plus entries. That, in turn, sets up Mike and Marcus’s movie-long personality switch: Where Mike slips into panic attack mode when a dangerous situation makes itself present, Marcus, newly reinvigorated after a brush with death, decides he’s newly invincible, crossing a super-busy street against all logic and sense.
Bad Boys: Ride or Die overlays an overly familiar, lazily constructed crime plot involving an unnamed cartel, corrupt public officials, and a generic white ex-Army Ranger-turned-villain, McGrath (Eric Dane), over Mike and Marcus’s ongoing personal issues. The crime plot centers on a dubiously conceived and executed plan to retroactively turn Mike and Marcus’s late boss, Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), into said corrupt public official. With the help of a mercenary hacker, McGrath siphons millions from an offshore cartel account to the late captain’s, retroactively tarnishing the captain's good name and with it, Mike and Marcus’s association with him.

What passes for a story ultimately involves Mike’s estranged son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), serving a lifetime without the possibility of parole for executing Howard in the last film, a botched prisoner transport, and Mike, Marcus, and Armando finding themselves on the run The Fugitive-style with Howard’s U.S. Marshal daughter, Judy (Rhea Seehorn), hellbent on capturing the three men while McGrath and his mercenaries simultaneously try to take them out with extreme prejudice. A multi-million-dollar bounty complicates what’s left of their lives.

In addition to Adil and Bilali’s return to the series, Bad Boys: Ride or Die reunited Mike and Marcus with Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens) and Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), tech-savvy Miami PD officers who help Mike and Marcus as they dig around for evidence of a far-ranging (insert multiple yawns her) conspiracy tying McGrath to public corruption. They also double as Mike and Marcus’s backups as the team pursues McGrath, saves an endangered family member or three, and avoids the U..S. Marshals on their trail.

As expected, it all culminates in a massive firefight full of exploding bodies, planes, and even alligators (it’s Florida, after all). Mike and Marcus – and through them, Smith and Lawrence (obviously) — endlessly quip their way through every dangerous situation, up to and including the obligatory catharsis-through-violence scene where Marcus meta-slaps Mike out of another mid-firefight slump and Mike responds by tearing through disposable henchmen like Marcus when a bag of Skittles hits his eyeline.

Adil and Bilali eagerly fill each set piece with the customary brio, not to mention cheekily, embracing the same stylistic maximalism that made Michael Bay a household name. Not that they don’t throw in a few new tricks into the mix (they do), of course.

An entry in the Bad Boys series without excess would be nothing more than a pale shadow of itself, forced to rely on Smith and Lawrence’s occasionally strained chemistry, juvenile humor, and not much else. If (and when) that’s the case, visual bombast and excess become essential to the series and its continued commercial success.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die opens Friday, June 7, only in movie theaters, via Sony Pictures. Visit the official site for more information

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Alexander LudwigBad BoysEric DaneJacob ScipioJoe PantolianoMartin LawrenceRhea SeehornVanessa HudgensWill Smith

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