You’d be forgiven for expecting very little from Bad Boys for Life. Not only is it arriving sixteen years after its predecessor, but the man responsible for directing the first two films is no longer at the helm. Michael “Boom Boom” Bay sits this third entry out, although he pops up for a fun cameo, and the reins are instead handed over to a pair of filmmakers whose previous three features grossed under $4 million at the box-office. Combined. Happily, the movie is a goddamn blast and quite possibly the best of the franchise.
Det. Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and his partner, Det. Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), are long in the tooth veterans of the Miami Police Department having overseen hundreds of cases, nearly as many dead bad guys, and hundreds of millions in property damage. Mike is ready for retirement, but Marcus is looking to keep going until he’s dead, and he nearly gets his wish when a would-be assassin guns him down in the street. As he struggles for life, a handful of other law enforcement officials are murdered, and when Mike returns to the field his number one priority is catching the killer. Obviously.
Where Bad Boys (1995) is a fun, stylish little action/comedy, Bad Boys II (2003) is excess made literal, and by most accounts that sequel was enough to put a lid on the idea of a third film. Sixteen years later, though, Bad Boys for Life arrives as a breath of a fresh air showing that not only could a sequel to this franchise entertain and excite, but also that one arriving so damn late could still find the magic. Smith and Lawrence hop back into some fantastic chemistry, the script offers both heartfelt interactions and some truly bonkers beats, and the action is a chef’s kiss of big, practical stunts, fights, and shootouts.
On that last point, co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Black, 2015) deliver a lot of bang for their buck, and some CG flames aside they manage most of it with a heavy reliance on practical effects and good, old-fashioned stunt work. It puts the likes of Hobbs & Shaw (2019) and 6 Underground (2019) to shame as most everything here feels weighty with impact you can almost feel while watching. From the opening chase to later shootouts and a running battle involving a motorcycle sidecar, a helicopter, a rocket launcher, and more, the action is thrilling, clearly shot, and immense fun. Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert (Revenge, 2017) does fantastic work capturing both the calm, neon and sun-splashed beauty of Miami with all of the subsequent mayhem.
As mentioned, the screenplay — credited to Chris Bremner, Peter Craig (Blood Father, 2016), and Joe Carnahan (Stretch, 2014) — pokes the expected fun at the duo’s age including a joke about Smith dying his goatee, but it makes room for the heart of the matter too in both their friendship and their advancing ages. It’s not overdone, though, and instead settles for a few cracks, some wise revelations, and an accepted understanding that maybe they’re not too old for this shit? Smith and Lawrence are both wholly at ease with these characters with the latter delivering the bulk of the film’s laughs and the former reminding people that he’s every bit the action movie star he once was. (Seriously, give last year’s Gemini Man a shot, people.)
Speaking of Gemini Man — honest, it’s a fun flick — Bad Boys for Life dabbles in some unexpected narrative directions too. The majority of its story is standard fare, executed well, but it makes some… choices. One involving an escaped convict is minor enough to be considered a throwaway, but a major one later on suggests a writers’ room that binge watched some other studio franchises and thought sure, why not. It raises some questions the film doesn’t get the chance to answer, but despite arriving so long after the last movie it has the cojones to set up a sequel in its mid credits scene. That’s confidence. And that’s presumably where we’ll get the payoff.
There are some bumps along the way including the telegraphed murder of a beloved supporting player and the tonal disconnect of characters laughing and joking again just a few scenes later, and audiences hoping for portrayals of Mexicans beyond that of gangsters and killers are out of luck too. The two detectives are teamed up with a squad of young ones (including a terrific Vanessa Hudgens) whose high-tech shenanigans feel a bit ridiculous, but the script wisely keeps them in check, and it folds them into the Mike/Marcus dynamic well. The Jump Street-inspired squad also features Riverdale‘s Charles Melton and Vikings‘ Alexander Ludwig with mixed results.
Bad Boys for Life is that rare, smart action sequel that knows better than to just “go bigger” and instead goes simpler with immensely entertaining results. It’s a terrific buddy comedy with heart and kick-ass action, and that’s something we can never have enough of.