In one of the more amusing action sequences in Bad Boys for Life, police officers Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) ride a stolen motorcycle and sidecar through the streets of Miami, chasing a bad guy in a van. Marcus has an automatic weapon but doesn’t want to fire it since he recently promised God he wouldn’t “put more violence into the world.” Using Bible verse, Mike frantically urges him to shoot, comparing Marcus and his machine gun to David and his slingshot. Eventually, Marcus shouts to the heavens, “Bad boys of the Bible!” and fires off a few bursts. But he doesn’t hit anyone, and the film immediately moves onto the next diversion. Bad Boys for Life never lets a little thing like story get in the way of a medium thrill.
Even 25 years ago, the original Bad Boys was a quaint throwback. It veered close to parody of the quip-laden rogue cop movies of the 1980s like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. The central duo were lazily sketched—Mike was a sexy trust fund kid and Marcus a sensitive family man—but the comedic chemistry between rising stars Smith and Lawrence was more than enough to hang a movie on. For most of its runtime, Bad Boys for Life coasts on their well grooved rapport, which hasn’t lost much of its magic.
Directed by Belgian up-and-comers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, the film leans on its familiarity. As it opens, Marcus is considering retirement. The birth of his first granddaughter has him increasingly worried that Mike’s cowboy antics will get him killed. Meanwhile, Mike ponders life without a partner, which causes him to consider the impossible: settling down with an ex-flame, a lieutenant (Paola Núñez), who has no discernible qualities except being almost as attractive as Will Smith. While the reliance on clichés makes it impossible to connect with the characters in any meaningful way, it also creates a pleasing détente. A movie this dumb rejects critical thinking. It’s so basic that it bends you to its will, creating its perfect audience, one with impossibly low standards, as it goes. In other words, I laughed more than I would like to admit.
The meager pleasures of a wisecracking duo, adequate car chases, and a few gruesome kills are eroded, however, in the third act, when the film succumbs to the demands of our new era. While fans of the franchise would be content to watch Smith and Lawrence trade quips and throw punches for hours, the plot takes a sudden turn toward sci-fi spectacle and serialized storytelling. Their battles with a seemingly generic drug dealer (Jacob Scipio) take our crime-fighting duo into the clutches of an honest-to-goodness witch. Weirdly, she doesn’t employ any of her powers, but instead exists to usher in a surprise from Mike’s past that turns the film into a sudden origin story just before the final shoot-out. For those who needed to know exactly why Mike Lowrey wears such colorful suits and enjoys the company of many women, Bad Boys for Life is the explainer you’ve been waiting for.
But there’s biting off more than you can chew, and then there’s trying to eat the world’s biggest ham with no teeth. Bad Boys for Life didn’t need to give us deep insight into these characters or increase the stakes in the direction of the supernatural. That’s never what the franchise was about. Age is supposed to bring wisdom, but the team behind this misguided sequel forgot one of the most basic lessons in life and movies: Don’t try to be something you’re not.
Bad Boys for Life opens Friday in theaters everywhere.
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