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BAD BOYS FOR LIFE Has Some Growing Up to Do (Review)
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For a longtime action movie fan, it’s hard not to feel like you’re getting older in the most joyless way possible when you don’t like something like Bad Boys for Life. It’s a film in a franchise that seems like it’s growing up right alongside you, exploring the interior lives of cops Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) with more thought and depth than ever before. But incredibly, where it falls short is in their exterior lives: Michael Bay disciples Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah direct chase and fight sequences with their predecessor’s same frenetic, hyperstylized charge, but absurd plot twists and incompetent police work (even for a buddy cop movie) undercut what aims to be intermittently introspective fun.

Mike Lowrey (WILL SMITH), Marcus Burnett (MARTIN LAWRENCE) have each others backs in Columbia Pictures' BAD BOYS FOR LIFE.

Sony Pictures Releasing

Picking up 25 years after the original Bad Boys and 17 after its sequel, Bad Boys for Life opens with Mike and Marcus racing frantically across town in Mike’s Porsche to the hospital where Marcus’ daughter has just given birth. Overwhelmed by the arrival of his grandson, Marcus announces plans to retire, much to Mike’s dismay; but while the two literally race one another on foot for the fate of their partnership, a masked biker drives by and shoots Mike, critically injuring him.

Marcus prays for Mike to recover, promising God he’ll abstain from acts of violence (including his duties as a cop) if his partner survives. But Mike emerges determined to find the attempted murderer and vows to track him down with or without help or authorization.

Reluctantly working with AMMO, a tech-savvy team of young cops led by ex-girlfriend Rita (Paola Nunez), Mike searches for clues about the biker, the mysterious Armando (Jacob Scipio), a ruthless figure in Miami’s criminal underworld. But even as a string of murders draws Marcus unwittingly back into service to help solve the case, Mike discovers a connection between their suspect and his distant past, disrupting his quest for vengeance as he and Marcus are forced to reflect on the legacy of their service.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star in Columbia Pictures' BAD BOYS FOR LIFE.

Sony Pictures Releasing

Bad Boys for Life is the kind of movie where a woman, possibly “a witch,” smashes the urn of a loved one to retrieve a flash drive buried in the ashes rather than just opening the lid. And that’s fine. “Ridiculous” is seldom a bad thing in over-the-top action movies. But working from a script by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and one-time director Joe Carnahan, the Belgian duo behind the camera fails to connect the sublime and mundane in Mike and Marcus’ (and the rest of the characters’) lives.

They navigate the streets of Miami like, well, they’re in a Michael Bay movie, while also wrestling with emotional issues that are sometimes too complicated for the rest of the film. For every clashing of Marcus’ zen wellness worldview and Mike’s guns-blazing approach, there are two scenes where they’re endangering motorists, property, and hundreds of passersby while pursuing an armed fugitive.

Cutting corners in police work and taking the law into one’s own hands are foundations of buddy-cop movie drama. But Mike is not only reckless, but a bad cop altogether, ignoring anything resembling procedure to carry out his vendetta. The bummer here is mostly that the filmmakers didn’t exploit this ripe opportunity for a generational and philosophical dialogue—even just for narrative or comedic purposes—as Mike attempts to navigate a law enforcement system that no longer tolerates his roguish tactics. As with Marcus’ insistence on acting nonviolently, the film discards its characters’ “codes” whenever they become an obstacle to a suitably bombastic set piece or action sequence.

Mike Lowrey (WILL SMITH), Rita (PAOLA NUNEZ), Marcus Burnett (MARTIN LAWRENCE), Dorn (ALEXANDER LUDWIG), Rafe (CHARLES MELTON), Kelly (VANESSA HUDGENS are prepping with new non-lethal weapons in Columbia Pictures' BAD BOYS FOR LIFE.

Sony Pictures Releasing

It’s distressing enough that Smith’s character has evidently not changed at all since 1995 when Bad Boys for Life begins, still dressing more like a TV star (or as Marcus shrewdly observes, “a drug dealer”) than a regular cop and fleeing from commitment like a perp from his Porsche. But the catalyst of his eventual “transformation” in this film lacks any sense of history within the franchise itself and wildly ignores a whole lot of moral and emotional realities to arrive at a decidedly, almost inexplicably hopeful conclusion.

Still, there’s about 40 times more scenes of men crying in this film than anyone could predict; both Smith and Lawrence tackle the dramatic scenes with considerably more interest and effort than they do the action. Nevertheless, the real standouts in the movie are the supporting players like Nunez, mesmerizing and authoritative as Mike’s formidable ex, and Charles Melton, Alexander Ludwig, and Vanessa Hudgens as members of AMMO, who boast as much personality but markedly different (and yet equally effective) skills to rival those of their forebears. Even if the movie can’t quite juggle its obligation to send pulses racing with the smart, humanistic aspects of its story, the ensemble cast really shows up to do some frequently great work.

Mike (WILL SMITH), Marcus (MARTIN LAWRENCE) on the streets of Miami in Columbia Pictures' BAD BOYS FOR LIFE.

Sony Pictures Releasing

Even at a runtime shorter than its predecessor by almost 25 minutes, the threequel feels overlong, which is probably another symptom of my growing too familiar, and restless, with the combination of so many explosions and so few brain cells. All of which is why Bad Boys for Life may leave you (to borrow a True Old phrase) not mad, but disappointed.

Unless future installments are willing to reckon with the deeper and more intriguing ideas surrounding these characters and their world, it might be time for Mike and Marcus to turn in their shield and badge. Especially at a time after other series have skillfully picked up and carried forward its torch, Bay’s flagship franchise no longer burns as brightly. A better way for the characters to age alongside their fans is to let them actually grow up a bit.

2/5

Featured Image: Sony Pictures Releasing