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Bad Boys for Life Review: Crimelords, Assassins, & Middle-age

The Bad Boys' Biggest Threat Is Father Time

The third entry in Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s epic Bad Boys saga, arrives in theatres 25 years after the original, proving that these bad boys are for life.

Smith and Lawrence effortlessly slip back into the roles of Miami Detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett. But is that really a surprise? These actors are two of the most electrifying screen presences of the past twenty-five years. If there were ever a pair of roles men were born to play, it’s the suave Mike Lowrey and skittish Marcus Burnett

Teaming them with the action movie auteur like Michael Bay is the cinematic equivalent of splitting the atom. And it’s bittersweet that Bay didn’t return to helm the Bad Boys for Life. Bay is the most ambitious, viscerally thrilling action filmmaker in the world. But these days his movies, are incoherent, insensitive, and problematic messes.

Removing Bay from the Bad Boys equation amounts to addition by subtraction.

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Instead, Bad Boys for Life is directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (going as Adil and Bilall), a pair of up-and-coming filmmakers whose films are feasts for the eyes.

Their new Bad Boys movie comes across like the work of Michael Bay on Xanax – which is 100% a good thing. Bay is always pushing action sequences to the limits with insane stunt choreography and cutting-edge technology. Adil and Bilall still dazzle with over-the-top action moments, but these scenes are more coherent and grounded – at least by Bay-hem standards.

Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan’s script is as straightforward as buddy-cop movies get. Marcus and Mike are a lot older, a bit wiser, and forced to confront a mysterious figure from the past.

Things kick off with the villainous Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), making a daring escape from a Mexican prison. Once free, she sets her sights on the men who put her behind bars and “killed the father of her son,” Armando (Jacob Scipio).

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Armando spent his entire life training to run a criminal empire. He’s a cunning and ruthless bad-ass with ninja-like fighting skills and he is obsessed with revenge. Armando travels to Miami to recruit a gang of thugs to kill everyone who crossed his mother, including Detective Lowrey. So, when Armando attempts to assassinate Mike, he never sees it coming.

Mike survives the attack, but a shook Marcus retires from the force and vows to god that he won’t partake in violence. Mike recuperates driven by his desire for revenge and drags a reluctant Marcus back into the hunt for the would-be killer. They’re aided on the case by the always agitated Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) and a high-tech task force led by Mike’s former flame, Rita (Paola Nuñez).

So, the question everybody wants to know is whether Bad Boys for Life recaptures the magic from the first two movies. The answer is yes, but barely.

The previous two films featured a pair of ultra-charismatic actors working at the height of their powers. Bad Boys for Life hits all the same beats from the last two flicks but doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Marcus and Mike squabble like a married couple, but they always have each others’ backs, and its a pleasure watching the duo’s 25-year-old camaraderie. Strip away the crime element and you could spend 120-minutes watching these two characters in a Rick Famuyiwa-style family dramedy. For Bad Boy diehards, the film’s nostalgia factor more than makes up for the sense that this film is a solid if unspectacular rehash.

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Along with cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert, the directors visually recreate the classic Michael Bay vibe. I lost track of the number of shots that looked plucked straight out of a Jay-Z video. The DP captures Miami in all its neon flavoured glory and often shoots Smith and Lawrence is Bad Boys’ signature low-angle hero shots, where the camera swirls around as the men preen in slow motion.

When things heat up, the movie features some bad-ass stunt choreography. Expect plenty of shootouts, thugs crashing through glass windows, and the most ferocious motorcycle chase since John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. The action sequences are fun to watch, but you won’t see anything mind-blowing.

If you’re squeamish about blood, steer clear of this picture. There’s no shortage of carnage (It’s Bad Boys, not Good Boys, after all), and the brutal and graphic acts of violence are so extreme that they will draw some “oohs” from the crowd. People get stabbed to death, shot in the head, and impaled.

For the first two-thirds of the story, the directors do some things that go above and beyond what you expect from big-budget buddy cop movies. They make an effort to humanize super cop Mike Lowrey in a manner that feels natural to the plot and the series themes. In some ways, it even deconstructs the notion of the hypermasculine black action star and explores the traumatic generational effects of police violence. That is until the movie doesn’t.

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Films portray black action stars as though they’re invincible. They’re always cool, tough as nails, and not to be f*cked with. Bad Boys for Life turns this stereotype on its head. First off, you have the skittish Marcus and his aversion to violence. And you also have Mike almost dying early on in the film, showing that he is, in fact, human.

Much of the story focuses on Marcus trying to get Mike to step away from their dangerous lifestyle. And there is a degree of love and admiration between these two characters that you don’t often see expressed between alpha males. One of the joys of this film is seeing how openly these two men express their unconditional love for each other.

Over the last two films, Marcus and Mike caused a lifetime’s worth of havoc. Armando represents the effects of their violence coming back around like a boomerang. Oppressive, fascistic policing might be fun to watch in a film, but the actions have consequences. In reality, this behaviour breeds more hatred and resentment toward law enforcement, and this movie is all about dealing with those repercussions.

By the time the third act begins, all the notions of humanizing the invincible characters and the gestures towards the de-escalation of violence fly out the window. Bad Boys for Life turns into live-action Call of Duty match and becomes another over-the-top action movie with nothing to say. I’m all for ridiculous action movies (John Wick 3 is on my 2019 top ten list). So, it’s disappointing watching this movie drop the ball after its promising setup. I can’t say more without getting into spoiler territory.

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Bad Boys for Life tries to hit all the same notes as the last two films, and the final product is only slightly off-key. The action is about as thrilling, the jokes are about as funny, but the chemistry remains off the charts. Smith and Lawrence’s bickering alone make this wild action flick worth the price of admission. And Adil and Bilall infuse the film with a sleek and glossy sheen, which captures the vintage Bad Boys look and feel.

The series’ waning staying power may not last “for life,” but this Bad Boys movie still works its magic, for at least a couple of hours.

Bad Boys for Life is now in theatres.

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