25 years after the original Bad Boys
introduced us to the star power of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and 17 years after the unnecessary Bad Boys II
buried that star power in an avalanche of special effects and explosions, here is the long-delayed Bad Boys For Life
. In all honesty, this third installment is probably the best in the series. Oh, it's still ridiculous as all get out, and a third act plot revelation is one of the goofier ones to appear in an action film in a while. But, there's an undeniable energy here, and Smith and Lawrence still play off each other beautifully.
Could the removal of Michael Bay (who directed the previous two entries) have anything to do with it? I'm going to go out on a limb, and say yes. This seems like much less an assault on the senses that the last film was, and more like a throwback to what made the original a hit. The new directors, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, seem to share the same passion Bay does for explosions, violence, and photographing the Miami scenery with as many bright colors and neon as possible. But, this doesn't feel like the largely impersonal assembly line product that so many of Bay's films do. They give Smith and Lawrence plenty of opportunities to interact with each other and the rest of the cast, so they're not just blasting their way through this while throwing off racist jokes and dick humor. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a smart movie, but for what it is, it knows what it's doing.
In the nearly 20 years since we saw Smith's Mike and Lawrence's Marcus on the screen, not much has changed, except for the usual passing of time and age. Mike is still the '"bulletproof" super cop who lives and drives recklessly, while Marcus is still the more level-headed family man of the duo. Now that Marcus has become a grandfather, he's ready to retire. This is something that Mike simply cannot fathom, and doesn't want to break up the team. But then, Mike is gunned down by a mystery assailant on a motorcycle. He survives the attack, and wants nothing more than to track down his assassin, especially since many other former cops and judges tied to Mike's past cases are also getting gunned down by the same killer. Marcus, however, appears to have had enough, and just can't be a "Bad Boy" cop anymore.
With his partner out of action for the moment, Mike has to turn to a special tactical police squad known as AMMO, which is headed up by his ex Rita (Paola Núñez) to find out who is behind the murders. Cue the scenes where Mike has to deal with a lot of cops who are much younger than him, and use technology that he is unfamiliar with. Naturally, Mike isn't made for a world of surveillance drones and rubber bullets, so he coaxes Marcus out of retirement, and the two decide to tackle things the way they always do. One of the surprising aspects is that the young cops whom Mike and Marcus are forced to work with are actually smart and respectful. One of them calls Mike "grandpa" at one point, but the movie is smart not to make the younger generation cocky twits who don't know a thing. They are resourceful, know what they're doing, and actually get a few good scenes with Mike and Marcus.
Bad Boys For Life
is paced well, and keeps a steady stream of action and comedy going, so we don't mind too much about things like the occasionally clunky dialogue, or the fact that the villains are completely forgettable, and make little to no impression, despite the fact that they ultimately play a pretty big role. Speaking of which, the revelation that ties the villains to Mike's past is pretty hard to swallow, and Will Smith deserves an award of some kind for being a good sport, and delivering the scene where he talks about the connection with a straight face. Credit the skillful filmmaking of the directing team and the performances of Smith and Lawrence that we don't give up on the film from that point. In a lesser movie, it might have sunk the film, but this one manages to stay afloat.
Given that this long-awaited return to the franchise is hitting so early in the year, it's easy to fear that this might be a disaster. But it does manage to be fun, it's well made, and you can sense the enthusiasm that went into making this one. This is one of those movies where you can tell the actors are barely hiding the smiles on their faces while they were making it.