Third time’s the charm with Bad Boys for Life, which is receiving rave reviews from critics who never cared for the first two Bad Boys movies. The factors include a restrained budget that makes for a less action-driven sequel in which the characters are key (though it cost much more than the original). Also, Michael Bay, who came on the scene as a movie director with the first Bad Boys, was not at the helm. Other than that, the ingredients for the third Bad Boys are pretty simple. Therefore, most of this week’s recommendations for what to watch next, inspired by the sequel, are also fairly simple.
6 Underground (2019)
If you missed the level of Bayhem that you got with at least Bad Boys II and want to know why the first two movies’ director couldn’t complete the trilogy himself (outside of appearing in a weird cameo), here’s what Michael Bay was doing instead of helming Bad Boys for Life. I admit that I haven’t seen it yet, but our own Kieran Fisher is a defender of the movie in a way that I’m sure diehard Bay fans can appreciate. Here’s what Fisher says of the Netflix Original in our recent ranking of Bay’s movies (where it places ninth, below both of his Bad Boys installments): “What we get here is pure unrestrained Bayhem as cars race through sacred Italian landmarks and bad guys get impaled by flying objects. Muse songs keep playing. The action only lets up briefly to allow the characters to discuss the difference between being intimate and fucking before all hell breaks loose again. 6 Underground has as much disregard for subtly and good taste as it does for common logic, and it’s all the more entertaining as a result.”
Gemini Man (2019)
I’m going to assume that if you’re reading a list of movies to watch after Bad Boys for Life that you’ve seen Bad Boys for Life, and so I’m going to have to allow spoilers here, as usual. For example, Gemini Man is partly recommended because of its parallel with the plot twist of the new Bad Boys movie. In both that and this, Will Smith finds out there’s a younger version of himself — a son and a clone, respectively — and before we are let in on the genetic connection, we see Smith’s character meeting his match in that mirroring youth. The first time they fight in both movies feels similar, but Ang Lee’s work in Gemini Man, along with the fight choreographers here, is much better. If only the Gemini Man script was. And I’ll say this: the dynamic between Smith and Jacob Scipio is far more emotionally effective than Smith and digitally de-aged Smith here. Gemini Man never really needed to be so groundbreaking in its effects. Cinema has always had the tools necessary for communicating information and character and relationships and themes found here without need of CGI.
I don’t know if Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah knew they’d be directing Bad Boys for Life in early 2018 when the former told Variety, “We’d love to do Bad Boys 3. That’s right up our alley.” Considering they were announced for the sequel a month later, probably. But they also just seemed right for the job. It was indeed up their alley. The Belgian duo has been making crime films with action elements in their own country for years. Influenced by the likes of Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese but also more suited for blockbuster fare (they’re also attached to Beverly Hills Cop 4), they broke out as filmmakers to watch from Hollywood’s perspective with the features Black and Gangsta, both of which are worth checking out after seeing their talent on screen with Bad Boys for Life. But first I encourage you to go back to their start with their debut short, Broeders, in which they display an appropriate interest in character dynamics. The student film contrasts a drug dealer and a religious man who works with kids and you can kind of imagine the other movie that takes these guys and throws them into a car together for a buddy action comedy. Maybe when CAA signed the duo soon after its success, Bad Boys 3 was already in mind for them.
Fast & Furious (2009)
A lot of reviews of Bad Boys for Life compare the sequel to the Fast & Furious franchise, which I think is a bit of a stretch. Yes, the new Bad Boys sequel deals a lot with family, and there’s a larger team dynamic at play here that could wind up being the norm with the Bad Boys series going forward (Bad Boys 4 is already in the works, hopefully with Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah back at the helm). But even with a lot of unbelievable and dumb moments, Bad Boys for Life stays relatively grounded compared to what we think of the Fast & Furious franchise as today. I’ll acknowledge that some of the stunts and some of the vehicles in Bad Boys for Life would fit in well with those of Fast & Furious, including Mike’s Porsche and definitely the motorcycle with a sidecar containing a giant machine gun. Bad Boys 4 will probably evolve towards the ridiculous, just as the Fast & Furious movies did. Let’s go back and look at the fourth installment of that franchise, Fast & Furious (which is part three chronologically) for the turning point when the series decided to be a more fun and spectacular ride. Fast Five would really pull in the fans another sequel later and then Fast & Furious 6 would get into the soap opera surprises a la Letty’s survival reveal, but I think Fast & Furious is the one best aligned with where Bad Boys is right now. We’ll see if they continue to be distant kin going forward.
Under the Same Moon (2007)
Kate del Castillo, who plays the villainous “witch” and baby mama Isabel in Bad Boys for Life, might not be familiar to most American audiences watching the new action sequel, but she’s been acting for more than 40 years and has been a famous Mexican telenovela star since the early 1990s. She’s less-known for her movie and television work, which includes smaller features starring the likes of Idris Elba, Jennifer Lopez, Antonio Banderas, and Kevin Kline, the animated film The Book of Life, and series such as Weeds and Jane the Virgin. She first came to my attention, though, with her starring role in Under the Same Moon, in which she plays a more likable character than the one we see in Bad Boys for Life. She plays an undocumented woman in Los Angeles whose young son is attempting to also illegally travel to America. Under the Same Moon also took Hollywood by surprise when it was released in the US and landed in the top 10 in its opening weekend. Back then, a Spanish-language feature brought no expectations for such success, despite the obvious reasons why it would. By the way, I wanted to include a few other Mexican films on this list, including the biographical crime film El Mas Buscado, which features Paola Nunez, but most of my preferred picks aren’t available anywhere that I can find.
Miami Vice (2006)
This Michael Mann movie, based on his own hit ’80s TV series, just seems like such an obvious choice that I don’t feel the need to write about why. I almost didn’t even include it, but then I realized we’d get shit for it on Twitter every time we share this post. Just make sure you’ve got a mojito on hand to drink while you watch it.
Cocaine Cowboys (2006)
When you think of the words Miami and documentary, one name should come to mind: Billy Corben. He’s made films about subjects set elsewhere, but he’s a Magic City native and particularly associated with stories set in Southern Florida. The filmmaker broke out first with Cocaine Cowboys, which chronicles the history of Miami as a gateway for the American cocaine trade in the 1970s and 1980s. While referencing DePalma’s Scarface and the Miami Vice TV series as products of the city’s reputation within the drug world, the Bad Boys franchise is definitely connected. The first movie is more focused on heroin, of course, and Bad Boys II deals with ecstasy, but that’s all to do with trends and keeping things different in more recent films than audiences were used to. And Miami’s rise in the drug world via the cocaine trend surely led to other drugs coming through the city. I also recommend Cocaine Cowboys 2, though its less fitting for the curation at hand.
High School Musical (2006)
This one’s a direct hit, reference-wise, and a meta one at that. Mike (Smith) calls the young AMMO team “a High School Musical boy band with guns,” which could just be about high school productions of musicals and not the specific TV movie franchise from Disney, but it’s a phrase that resonates loudly because AMMO member Kelly is played by Vanessa Hudgens, who is one of the stars of High School Musical and its two sequels. Fans of Bad Boys for Life probably won’t enjoy this, and I for one also prefer Hudgens in action hero mode and hope she continues in that direction with her career, but my daughter just got into the High School Musical movies and if I have to watch them, you have to watch them and suffer with me.
Jean de Florette (1986) and Manon of the Spring (1986)
As Marcus (Lawrence) states after a certain plot twist in Bad Boys for Life, the revelation is like the stuff you’d find in a telenovela. But Spanish-language soap operas aren’t the only place you find shocking storylines involving familial surprises. Consider the duology of Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring (aka Manon des Sources) which Claude Berri directed back to back as an adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s two-part novel L’eau des Collines (which itself was based on a four-hour film he had made in 1952 with the same story, titled Manon des Sources). Apologies, but I’m going to spoil the twists of the movies because otherwise, you won’t understand why I think of them in relation to Bad Boys for Life. Jean de Florette sets things in motion with the story of Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil), who comes back from the Great War and starts a much smaller war with Jean (Gerard Depardieu), the son that his uncle Cesar’s childhood sweetheart had with another man. At the end of that film, Jean dies as a result of Ugolin and Cesar’s scheming, leaving Jean’s wife and daughter with nothing. In the second film, the daughter, Manon (Emmanuelle Beart), seeks revenge against the two men. In the end, though, we learn that Jean was Cesar’s secret son all along, which makes the whole story much more tragic. See, it’s better if you just watch the movies, even if you know the ending, to properly wrap your head around it all.
Strangely enough, Manon of the Spring is not currently available, despite the first part being easily accessed.
West of Zanzibar (1928)
Finally, this silent film also deals with the paternity plot twist. And yes, I’m going to spoil it for you while recommending you watch it still. Based on the Broadway play Kongo, Tod Browning‘s West of Zanzibar stars Lon Chaney as a magician whose wife leaves him for another man (Lionel Barrymore). Years later, when the woman dies, the magician sets out on a plan of revenge against not only the lover she ran away with to Africa but also their daughter. He uses his tricks to ruin the rival lover and the now-grown-up girl (whom he’s driven to alcoholism and prostitution), only to find out at the end that she’s actually his child. Only Barrymore’s character is killed in this incarnation of the contrived plot, so less of a tragic situation, though Chaney’s character, as played by Walter Huston (who’d originated the role on stage) also succumbs in the 1932 talkie remake (titled Kongo). Products of their time, both screen adaptations of the play obviously feature some cringe-worthy depictions of Africa and its people, so take that into consideration when viewing either one.