17 years have passed. The boys have gotten older. In 1995, Michael Bay debuted with the first Bad Boys—a buddy cop action flick with eye-candy women, large explosions, and orange tinted skies. The one-off soon begat a sequel Bad Boys II (2003), and now have evoked a trilogy. Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) return in Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s Bad Boys For Life, replete with more explosions and more women, but with greater introspection.
The suave indestructible Lowery—who’s always been the closest thing to a Black James Bond—is still up to his cocky womanizing ways. And while Burnett remains an antagonistic hothead, and the one with a family, he’s slower and pacified. Now a grandfather, Burnett would rather retire than remain a gut-toting wrecking crew—which runs in sharp contrast to his partner. Lowery doesn’t think, and doesn’t want, their days as cops to end. A loner who’s only been in love once, he can barely confront the fact that he’s aging. He rubs cocoa butter midnight into his goatee to hide his graying. But after a mysterious assassin (Jacob Scipio) is sent by a Mexican convict Isabel (Kate del Castillo) to hunt his partner down, the sign is enough for Burnett to walk away.
While some things remain the same—Joe Pantoliano as Captain Conrad Howard—some things do change. Lowery and Burnett’s take charge style is now outdated. Instead, the police department is relying on a team like AMMO—Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton—to capture culprits with technological and non-lethal methods. They’re headed by Lieutenant Rita (Paola Núñez, a fiercely independent and strong woman), who has a unique history with Lowery. They spend much of their time hunting down assassins, as Bad Boys For Life splits itself into two sections: the heaviness and introspection of the first half and the action-packed second half.
Nevertheless, if you’ve never seen a Bad Boys film, don’t worry. The trilogy, unlike most others, is fairly self-contained. And even though this chapter uses a few brief references to Bad Boys II, that fact is inconsequential to the enjoyment of the film. Instead Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan’s script relies on the character dynamics between Lowery and Burnett to thrive. In this case, revenge vs. zen, with both characters parsing through the consequences of their cavalier actions over the course of 25 years. And in Bad Boys for Life‘s confrontational moments: Lowery instigating violence and Burnett searching for peace—comes Lawrence and Smith’s best acting in years. Each have painstaking scenes wrought from the franchise’s backstories and memories, when their chemistry, born from three films together, comes to the forefront. Because while “We ride together. We die together. Bad Boys for life” refers to their partnership, it’s always been about their friendship, and their love for one another. In every scene, every joke, and every insult, you feel that warmth shine through with the intensity of a lens flare.
Moreover, when we do arrive in the action-packed second half, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah understand what a Bad Boys film is (or a Michael Bay one). Slow-motion shots, circle pans, and orange tinted skies pervade this flick. The villains are purposely cartoonish, yet do remain serious, displaying depth for maximum impact. The explosions are excitingly over-the-top. And while some of the chase scenes do rely on a mixture of CGI and practical effects—dulling the excitement, the choreography of the hand-to-hand combat is spectacular. Also, Lorne Balfe’s music brings the uptempo 90’s strings back, with hints of the original score by Mark Mancina (Speed and Con Air). And whenever Bad Boys for Life runs the risk of sputtering into lunacy (Lowery has a crazy secret) it brings itself back down to earth through gut-busting humor. Because Bad Boys for Life is not only intense, it’s hilarious.
Never taking itself too seriously, the movie’s 124 minutes fly by, carefully carving the multiple ways these characters have matured. Bad Boys for Life is a throwback dumb action film, meant to bridge to a fourth installment. To these ends, it lovingly tends its roots and watches its new branches grow in a crowd pleasing romp.