“Bad Boys” was released in 1995 and was seen as something of a stepping stone for the culture. Starring two up-and-comers in sitcom stars Martin Lawrence and Will Smith — the film was originally set to star Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey — and helmed by then first-time filmmaker Michael Bay, “Bad Boys” was seen as the little (ish) film that could. Proving a giant success and further launching its stars and director into A-list territory, the sequel then followed 8 years later. It has now been 17 years since “Bad Boys 2” and we’ve seen countless franchises attempt to relive their glory days with failing results. “Bad Boys For Life”, however, retains its franchises relevance.
“Bad Boys For Life” succeeds in how it welcomes the new and forges with the old unlike last year’s flop “Shaft” which attempted to merge the two, but instead found itself lazily taking a crack at the modern generation with every opportunity. Replacing Michael Bay — who makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo — are newcomers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who inject this newest installment with a wide-eyed sensibility that refuses to conform to its potential cynicism. Gone is the vulgar mean streak that Bay is often accused of, instead, “Bad Boys For Life” finds a more reflective edge.
Marcus (Martin Lawrence) and Mike (Will Smith) find themselves wandering aimlessly at the age of 50. Marcus has just become a grandfather and decides to retire, while Mike still yearns for the highs of his glory days. Both men are forced back into action when a cartel leader (Kate del Castillo) with ties to Mike’s past comes back to wreak havoc. Something that should come as no surprise is just how well Smith and Lawrence continue to play off each other. Time has had no effect on the actors ability to inhabit these characters and they are a joy to watch from beginning to end. Neither performance is one-note either. “Bad Boys For Life” is the most dramatic of the three films and carries a surprising amount of thematic depth. The guys are often confronted with the limitations of their aging selves, along with the threat of being replaced by younger, more able bodied agents.
Tasked with hunting down the cartel leader is AMMO, an elite task force comprised of young officers (Paola Nunez, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton) that use all the latest technology available to their advantage. The guys are initially neglective of the new team, but they quickly come to embrace their new partners and work together. Their camaraderie is a nice touch and helps create some of the films best scenes. Joe Pantoliano also makes his return worthwhile as the stress-induced Captain Howard.
Directors Adil and Bilall keep the film moving at a consistent pace that at 123 minutes never drags. The action sequences are largely fun and never teeter on overkill. The film is also gorgeously shot by DP Robrecht Heyvaert (“Revenge”). Not since Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” has the city looked so breathtaking. In addition to having a keen eye for action, these directors also handle the dramatic elements of the film quite effectively. The stakes are amplified significantly here than in the previous films and the filmmakers along with writers Joe Carnahan, Chris Bremner and Peter Craig find new ways to keep the tension sustainable. The consequences feel real as the villains strike Mike and Marcus right at their hearts. “Bad Boys For Life” isn’t going to be confused with “The Irishman”, but there is a surprising amount of weight here, particularly in the final act.
“Bad Boys For Life” takes the formula of what made the franchise a hit in the first place and infuses it with enough depth and fun to make another (possibly final?) outing with these characters stand out more than you would hope for. These Bad Boys prove that old dogs can still learn new tricks.