Review- Bad Boys for Life
Franchise resurrections are so frequent and consistently embarrassing that it’s no small feat for the Bad Boys series to not only return, but to do so and be this enjoyable. Belgian directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah now take the reigns for this sequel to Bad Boys 2- a film that came out a whopping seventeen years ago. Which begs the difficult question with returning to Bad Boys, whatcha gonna do?
The strange answer is.. not much? Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are still up to their usual nonsense as Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowry (AKA the world’s worst police officer since Ltd. Frank Drebin). There’s a wisdom to this status quo being upheld as themes of ageing are introduced, even giving Marcus Captain Kirk’s glasses subplot from Wrath of Khan.
Marcus is sensibly planning retirement wanting to become a Good Grandpa rather than a Bad Boy. Mike, however, is convinced that he’s still at his peak, a bulletproof invincible hero until a string of assassinations connected to an old case forces him to reevaluate his priorities in life. Assassinations aside it’s hard not to look at Lowry as a stand-in for Will Smith himself, finding himself again after a string of unsuccessful attempts at playing against type. Ironically the third act of this film gives a more impactful Smith versus evil Smith than could Gemini Man could do in its entirety.
The glue that has held this series together has been the wonderful comedic chemistry between the leads but this time they’re given room for an emotional connection. There are some surprisingly poignant moments between them early on and although the film veers away from that tone it’s refreshing given that Bay was usually inadequate with that material in his instalments. It would be nice if the duo weren’t as obsessed with their own theme song but alas! Their brand demands it.
However, where Michael Bay is missed, is in the action. His sense of escalation and panache for chaos is sorely missing here. There is a terrific sequence that begins in a nightclub and ends with Mike dangling from a helicopter while Marcus shoots a minigun at the rotors but other than that, the action scenes are lacking. Bay's mastery of joyously chaotic collateral damage gives his most madcap scenes a sense of punch, nothing in this film compares to the hearse chase from the second film, black comedy entwined with action. The Bad Boys could be Terminators at this point, mowing their way through goons with no danger of personal injury. These scenes fail to capitalise on the age of the protagonists, a shame given the juicy set-up. This is most notable in the fiery finale that somehow feels both too silly and not nearly silly enough for its context: Schrödinger’s schlock?
But forget the Bad Boys, the real star of this show is Joe Pantoliano. Returning as Captain Howard he’s been given a meatier role than the stereotypical “angry police chief dealing with loose cannons”. Howard provides a heart that previous instalments lacked, a stern yet kind-hearted fatherly figure having found a measure of peace and security in the strangeness of the world he inhabits. A mid-film conversation about wild horses between him and Lowry is so unexpectedly touching that you briefly forget you’re watching a Bad Boys film at all.
The same can’t be said for the rest of the supporting cast. While the whole cast is very good so many of these characters seem like afterthoughts with little function. Paola Núñez has a past romance with Mike that the film is almost apathetically trying to rekindle, overshadowing her role as the leader of AMMO, a dystopian big-brother unit of super-cops. Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, and Alexander Ludwig play the members of this motley crew of attractive ass-kickers but are never bestowed much personality or story function other than the tasteless mocking of Ludwig’s PTSD and pacifism.
The villains are the strangest element in this mix. Jacob Scipio is the main muscle doing his best with fairly limited material, portraying inner-conflict when given time to breathe between assassinations. His mother, however, is another story. Kate del Castillo plays… a witch? Seriously. Although literal magic is left ambiguous the detail is bizarre, as jarring as the voodoo in Live and Let Die was to the Bond series. She has a connection to Mike (who hasn’t he slept with at this point?) and towards the end of the film, it starts to feel like a Mexican telenovela, a touch that the film even references. Is the melodrama more acceptable since they call attention to it? Not really but it’s nice to see a degree of unironic self-awareness in a very silly film.
Bad Boys for Life is a very pleasant surprise, an enjoyable action romp that has a lot more heart than expected. It’s so rare for a film of this calibre to be functional let alone good, proving Will Smith still had charm in spades in the process. That said let’s hope the series follows Marcus’ initiative and aims for a safe and dignified retirement rather than an inevitable crash and burn.