It all began in 1995, with Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as two Miami narcotics detectives who live by the motto, “Ride together. Die together.” Then came Bad Boys II in 2003, with more of the same. And now, there’s Bad Boys For Life, more of the same – again – with a slightly twistier twist than its immediate predecessor. In other words, you know what you’re in for with this franchise: Two longtime friends who drive each other crazy also have each others’ backs through a barrage of violence, comedy, drama, car chases, motorcycle chases, helicopter chases, bloodshed, bromance, and collateral damage.
How do I know it’s more of the same? I binge-watched the first two Bad Boys films on Netflix last weekend, to “prep” for what was being billed as “one last ride” for smooth talkin’ bachelor Mike Lowrey (Smith) and emotionally-stressed family man Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). The movies were far more violent than I expected, but my binge provided some valuable background on various relationships – between Mike and Marcus; Mike and Marcus’s sister; Marcus and his wife and kids; Mike, Marcus and their police Captain (Joe Pantoliano); and Marcus’s daughter and a lanky teenager who took her out despite Mike and Marcus’s profane intimidation tactics.
Bad Boys For Life is not quite as good as the first Bad Boys movie, but it’s much better than the second. The first was fun for that initial pairing and easy chemistry of Smith and Lawrence, and for Téa Leoni’s breakout role as a spunky, scantily-clad witness to a murder (you’ve come a long way, Madame Secretary!). Bad Boys II wasted the talents of Gabrielle Union as Marcus’s DEA agent sister with a thing for Mike. The plot for that one was a hot mess. Bad Boys For Life tells a slightly more cohesive story and introduces an array of new characters who could potentially represent the future of the franchise.
The main adversarial badasses in Bad Boys For Life are lethal mother and son drug smugglers played by Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio. They have a vendetta against Mike that dates back a couple of decades and they’re itching to make him suffer. Their arrival on the scene coincides with Marcus’s announcement that after 25 years, a few extra pounds and a new grandbaby, he’s ready to retire, leaving Mike to ride – alone. Yeah, right.
Mike is primed and ready to fight the bad guys solo, but he reluctantly accepts backup from an elite new unit of millennial cops – the “AMMO” squad – led by his former flame Rita (Paola Nunez). And of course, Marcus gets drawn back into the mix as well, because you can’t have a buddy cop movie without the buddy.
Belgian co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah follow the blueprint established by action director extraordinaire Michael Bay in the first two films. The pacing is fervent and the body count high, and the bullets stop flying just long enough to land a punchline or two (my favorite: “This is some serious Telenovella sh*t!”)
Bad Boys is a fairly conventional action comedy buddy cop movie franchise that I could easily live without. I prefer more dramedy, less violence (yes, I know, this coming from someone who inexplicably embraces the John Wick movies. What can I say? It’s Keanu.). But as sequels to sequels go, Bad Boys For Life isn’t half-bad. And may we all age at the pace of Will Smith.
Which brings us to that all-important question…
Is this really the final ride? Stick around for the closing credits.