BAD BOYS FOR LIFE (Bilall Fallah, Adil El Arbi). 124 minutes. Opens Friday (January 17). See listing. Rating: NNN
A Bad Boys movie without director Michael Bay at the helm seems like sacrilege. His aesthetic built the franchise, especially those slow-motion, action-star-making shots where Will Smith runs in an open shirt. But Bay isn’t completely absent from the reunion, which takes place 17 years after the last sequel.
New directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi kick off Bad Boys For Life with quintessential Bayhem. Will Smith’s Mike Lowrey and Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett tear through Miami in a Porsche 911, putting lives and infrastructure in danger at every intersection. They’re not chasing villains. They’re just trying to get to the hospital as quickly as possible so Marcus can meet his new grandchild.
When they arrive, we get that trademark Bay slow-motion shot where the camera swirls around while looking up at the leads as they step all cool-like out the car. But Marcus interrupts the slickness by banging the door against a fire hydrant. He hilariously ruins the moment.
That prologue is both homage and send-up, paying respect to the original and the auteur behind it (Bay makes a cameo) while also having a laugh at its expense. And it sets the tone for Bad Boys For Life, which tries to recreate what was special in the movies before it while allowing for an evolution in both the characters and the movie’s overall style.
Marcus is now a grandpa. Mike is a playboy who’s aging out. There are bits where we ponder how long these old men can keep calling themselves “bad boys.” There’s also a fascinating vulnerability to these guys as they approach retirement age that I never expected to see. These ride-or-die partners come face to face with their own legacy and mortality. And in those moments Bad Boys For Life’s relationship to its predecessors becomes what The Irishman is to Goodfellas and Casino.
No, Bad Boys hasn’t reached Scorsese heights. The franchise is vulgar, ridiculous and frequently stupid. The latest one, which is about a vengeful Mexican cartel that has Mike in its crosshairs, is no exception. The action is unbelievable, but also far more humble and enjoyable than Bay’s hyperactive bombast in Bad Boys 2. And the final act veers into Fast And Furious territory. The Vin Diesel franchise owes a debt to the fast cars and hip-hop formula Bay put together, so the influences are coming full circle.
But what has kept Bad Boys special is Smith and Lawrence. The original was the first mainstream studio action movie to pair two Black leads, relying on their swagger and banter to keep everything afloat. That chemistry isn’t any less potent. Lawrence especially is as hilarious as ever, his frustrated comic foil act never gets old. Or rather, he finds so much more ammo in getting old.