They first teamed up for “Bad Boys” in 1995 to great box office success. There was an encore in 2003, “Bad Boys II,” which was distinguished by incredible stunts. Now, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence go back to the same well one more time. Is there any water left?
Michael Bay (“Transformers,” “Armageddon”) directed the first two films, with an over-the-top, over-produced style that seems dated by today’s standards. The smartest choice franchise producer Jerry Bruckheimer made was to hire two new young directors to guide the series into the 2020s.
Moroccan-born Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (“Black,” “Gangsta”) put their own spin on the footage aided by cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert (“Black,” “Gangsta”). What’s on view looks like an ultra-hip extended music video that captures your eyeballs and takes them hostage.
A sporty looking, deep blue 992-Generation Porsche speeds through the streets of sunny Miami. If a reckless twenty-something was behind the wheel, you’d call the car a chick magnet. Instead, it’s 51-year-old detective Mike Lowrey (Smith) steering the vehicle with his lead foot on the accelerator. In his hands, the sports car is more a middle-ager’s last grasp at youth.
Lowrey’s 54-year-old partner detective Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) sits petrified in the passenger seat, holding on for dear life and nauseated by the hyper-dangerous ride.
Burnett: “I’m about to throw up.” Lowrey: “You better not. That’s hand-stitched Italian leather. You better drink that s—t!” And so, it begins. Edge-of-your-seat action scenes, perfectly shot. Thrills and chills. Two old friends: One, a swinger, clearly still in the game. The other, a family man a whisper away from retirement with an accountant’s nervous stomach and no love left for a cop’s perilous life.
According to the blueprint drawn by screenwriters Chris Bremner, Peter Craig (“The Town”) and Joe Carnahan (“Narc,” TV’s “The Blacklist”), this is how the film will play out: A plot involving revenge from a former Mexican assailant Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo, “All About Nina”) and her minion (Jacob Scipio, “Hunter Killer”) evolves. Assassinations of lawyers and judges rain down on Miami like a summer storm.
A new police unit named AMMO takes charge of the investigation, headed by a tough captain named Rita (Paola Nuñez, TV’s “The Purge”) and her elite group: tech wizard Dorn (Alexander Ludwig, “The Hunger Games”), weapons expert Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens, “Spring Breakers”) and the very sarcastic Rafe (Charles Melton, TV’s “Riverdale”). Can they do the job? Will Mike and Marcus hurt or help them?
Subtly and brazenly, in humor and family drama, the script rips into the ages of the two protagonists like someone pouring salt on an open wound. The “boys” have lost a few steps and added gray hairs industrial-strength Grecian Formula can’t fix. The contrasts between the veterans and the new justice league gets played for laughs persistently, especially between Smith and Melton.
Though the script is solid in most aspects, its dialogue, its rapid-fire banter is its strongest asset. When Smith and Lawrence exchange verbal jabs nothing is off the table. Viagra, becoming a grandparent, the last time either one had sex… The two are extremely competitive and well aware that father time could beat them in a foot race.
Equally strong is the chemistry between the two leads. Twenty-five years later, their bromance is as fresh as the day they met. Smith, as the mercurial, perpetual bachelor exhibits his best swagger in years. His Mike is like an old clubgoer who hasn’t realized the crowd around him is young enough to be his children.
Lawrence’s curmudgeon and sensitive character plays perfectly against Smith’s brash attitude. He’s hysterical in ways only true comedians can be. The characters’ bond is easy to like and has been cherished by filmgoers who will likely follow them into old age even as these bad boys start to solve crimes in nursing homes.
Every member of the cast shines brightly: Joe Pantoliano as the very manic Captain Howard; del Castillo is so evil she would make a witch blush. As Aretas, she sneers: “A bullet is mercy for that son of a bitch.” Paola Nunez makes Rita brave and sensual. A very fluid cameo performance by DJ Khaled, as a smarmy crook, should win him more roles. Jacob Scipio as the evil, coldblooded assassin puts his stamp on this movie. Theresa Randle, Nicky Jam, Massi Furlan, José Alfredo Fernandez and John West Jr. fill out the ensemble.
So, what’s the flaw? The finale looks too artificial: The camera focuses on an empty building, the lens targets two rats. The rodents are so clean and white they look like they came from central casting with personal hairdressers and makeup artists. The building is entirely too majestic (production designer Jon Billington, set decoration Lori Mazuer and Daniela Rojas), like an opera set not an abandoned facility. The sequence seems phony—almost corny.
This final battle is saved by the quick edits (Dan Lebental and Petr McNulty), which have given the entire 2H 3M film a very modern, tight and forceful rhythm. The musical score by Lorne Balfe, with brazen horns during action scenes and soft violins during drama, also helps to counteract this imperfection.
Crime/action/thriller fans and urban audiences will be in their glory with this multicultural orgy of violence, blue language, sexy flirtations and good versus evil battles. It’s fun. There’s a strong verve that is completely contagious and will likely help this sequel achieve record-breaking box-office success.
“Bad Boys for Life” is all it needs to be. And then some! Get ready for it. “What you gonna do when it comes for you?”
Editor’s Note: “Bad Boys for Life” opened Jan. 14 and made an estimate of $73 million domestically over the MLK Holiday weekend.