Bad Boys for Life

(2020) ** R
123 min. Columbia Pictures. Directors: Adil, Bilall. Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Kate Del Castillo, Jacob Scipio, Alexander Ludwig, Vanessa Hudgins, Charles Melton, Theresa Randle.

/content/films/5194/1.jpgThere’s a lot of talk about fan service these days, in an entertainment landscape where sequels, revivals, and reboots rule. But Bad Boys for Life includes a scene of literal fan service, when Martin Lawrence’s retired Miami P.D. detective disastrously attempts to repair his ceiling fan. Of course, it’s not that passing sight gag that fans will come for: it’s the reteaming of Lawrence and Will Smith in a seventeen-years later sequel to Bad Boys II.

Bad Boys for Life, like so many years-later sequels, will play a little differently to its primary target audience of old-school fans and to the young first-timers it also hopes to draw. The third entry goes at nostalgia hard in its opening sequence, with its swooping Miami views, blocky credits font announcing “A Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer Production” (Simpson died 24 years ago, a year after Bad Boys’ release), and hot-rod racing with Smith at the wheel and Lawrence riding shotgun. For the younger viewers, everything old is new again (the buddy action-comedy formula, with well-cast buddies, rarely fails), but it’s been newfangled to resemble the modern standard: the Fast and Furious franchise.

In this case, adding an ensemble of young cops led by Mike’s ex Rita (Paola Núñez)—a police task force named AMMO that Smith intitially dismisses, with trademark casual sexism, as “a High School Musical boy band with guns”—isn’t really about hedging bets for aging stars (at 50, Will Smith remains fit and viable as an action lead); it’s about chasing that sweet, sweet Fast and Furious box office by not so subtly cribbing that film’s team-up plotting and clubhouse aesthetic, with clapbacks flying amid a “family” feel. Despite all that, the focus remains squarely on the dynamic between lovingly bickering bros Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence), the former a confirmed bachelor and the latter a family man newly anointed as “Pop Pop” to a grandchild named after him. Adding immeasurably to the film’s enjoyment: returning player Joey Pantoliano as the bad boys’ Pepto-Bismol-swigging police captain.

The script by Chris Bremmer and Peter Craig & Joe Carnahan predictably makes hay from the leads’ midlife crises: Lowrey’s ride-or-die loner shtick isn’t aging well (he’s asked, “You want your legacy to be muscle shirts and a body count?”), and Burnett’s insistence on retirement creates extreme tension that only escalates when criminals from Mike’s past (Kate Del Castillo and Jacob Scipio as mother-son killers) begin a revenge campaign of gunning down the law-enforcement folks they hold responsible for their downfall. This time, it’s personal, and then more personal, and then more personal, as the plot twists pile up. Although erstwhile Bad Boys director Michael Bay shows up to bless the project in a cameo role, it’s Belgian duo Adil and Bilall who get their Hollywood break here orchestrating the chaotic action mayhem (from a motorcycle/sidecar chase to a fiery shoot-em-up climax) and close ups of Smith earning his paycheck and then some by emoting like his life depended on it.

These films strike a strange tone. There’s the bombastic action that must be accepted on fantasy terms lest we recognize what terrible people the heroes would be in real life (Lowrey alone performs life-endangering reckless driving while not even on the job, practices police brutality, and generally violates procedure and civil rights with impunity), and then there’s the melodrama that gives the plot emotional weight (Lawrence gets in a crack comparing it to the telenovelas he watches with his family). Contemplating any of this action-comedy camp in real-world terms, like Burnett’s plot-driven temporary swearing-off of violence, would be a maddening mistake. Accept Lowrey’s assessment that “Violence is what we do,” or pick another movie.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links