James Clay // Film Critic\
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE
Twenty-five years is quite a while for any franchise to be still going, especially one as cynical as BAD BOYS. Bringing back old favorites after being dormant for over a decade is now not only the new trend in Hollywood, it’s an epidemic. Sometimes it works (CREED), sometimes it falls flat (CHILD’S PLAY), but it’s hard to swallow when the films are as desperate as BAD BOYS FOR LIFE.
This comes 17 years after Michael Bay’s quasi-brilliant and completely ludicrous BAD BOYS 2. That 2003 sequel saw its stars, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, set the screen on fire with their crass uber machismo chemistry that was so over the top that it was hard to take seriously –– but that was the point. In this case, that desperation wears is proudly worn, and there are flashes of being surprisingly endearing.
This time, Bay isn’t in the director’s chair. (Although, he does pop up in a brief, cameo.) The duty has fallen upon Belgian directing-duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who are making their English-language debut. Their movie executes all the visual caveats that audiences would want out of a BAD BOYS film.
The problem, however, lies in a soapy script that reaches for emotional grandeur and a tone that’s ten years too late. Despite the two stars rising to the comedic occasion – by smoothly gliding back into the dynamic of renegade super cop Mike Lowrey (Smith) and the more lethargic family man Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) – everything about their relationship seems a bit old-fashioned. These are the type of guys who struggle to muster the emotional courage to say, “Thank you.”
Everything begins with Marcus looking to retire from the force. At the same time, Lowrey has no intention of quitting amid a midlife crisis sparked by the millennial task force AMMO, led by Lowrey’s old flame Rita (a notable Paola Nunez). They’re busy tracking the escaped drug lord Isabel (Kate del Castillo) along with her highly capable son Armando (Jacob Scipio).
They have returned to Miami to serve up a healthy plate of revenge and are harboring a few secrets of their own. After a near-fatal shooting, Lowrey begs Burnett through tear-filled eyes to come back for one last hoorah. Clouded by his selfish ways, Lowrey fights against seeking a new path in life, while Burnett welcomes becoming a grandfather and developing a potbelly in his recliner.
Steeped in the frantic quick-cutting and the signature circular camera movements, Arbi and Fallah, for better or worse, give BAD BOYS FOR LIFE a remixed version of Bay’s style. Their skills as directors are well-suited for a film of this ilk. The visuals teeter on monotony; meanwhile, the thematic elements are piercing. Coupled with the script by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and (once attached director) Joe Carnahan, they have Lowrey and Burnett look back into their past to right their wrongs and move forward.
This trilogy of films has been plastered in a tacky brand of masculinity that was always self-aware at how unabashedly detached it was from any sense of reality. In a way, all three films could be summed up with Lowrey and Burnett’s fight against ego and impulse control.
In one scene where the duo is reflecting, Burnett says, “Mike, we have more years behind us than in front of us.” it’s hard not to find a meta element to the whole film with lines of dialogue like this being presented. Lawrence hasn’t been a major screen actor in over a decade, and Smith’s recent turns have been so scattershot that he appears to be going through an acting identity crisis. While the film is low rent and filled the story elements of a telenovela, it’s the slight ruminating moments such as this that become the most intriguing. Again, this is not what the general movie-going public is craving. BAD BOYS FOR LIFE is here to offer up vapid car chases and sultry Miami vistas.
It’s hard place where the movie went wrong. A few elements are adeptly handled, and then characters fail to punctuate character introductions, inside jokes and motivations. Supporting characters like Vanessa Hudgens are put on the AMMO task force with nothing to do; Alexander Ludwig awkwardly sticks out; and a witchy plot regarding del Castillo is vastly underwritten.
It’s tough to recommend BAD BOYS FOR LIFE when we’re living in an age where tightly-wound actioners are in full supply. Films such as MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and likely the upcoming TENET satisfy a need for big-budget thrills that don’t need to coast on a taut yet juvenile mantra about 50-year-old men trying to come of age.
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE hits theaters nationwide on January 17.