Bad Boys For Life (R) ★★

Review Date: January 15th, 2020

Has the passage of 18 years and the removal of Michael Bay from the director's chair revived or redeemed the roadkill represented by the previous Bad Boys sequel? To a certain extent, yes, but only when one considers that the third installment to this past-its-prime franchise has brought it back to the level of the first one. As a recap, here's what I wrote in my 1995 review of Bad Boys: "...It has style and energy... Unfortunately, there's only so far a movie can go on...testosterone and adrenaline. Bad Boys takes the often-traveled road, and leads the audience to a dead end." Bad Boys II? "Not only is it exceedingly long… but each scene is worse than the one before, making the viewing experience akin to a plunge into the lowest depths of hell." So, for Bad Boys for Life, we avoid a trip into the lowest depths of hell in favor of a dead end. (Or, more accurately, a lead into Bad Boys 4 during the closing credits.)

The first two Bad Boys movies were mismatched buddy cop films. You know the kind - Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours, etc. Between 1995, when Bay teamed up TV figures Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and 2020, the stars' careers haven't stayed at the same level and this is reflected in their relative importance in Bad Boys for Life. This is Will Smith's movie; Martin Lawrence shares the supporting stage with the likes of Joe Pantoliano (back one more time as the hard-assed captain), Vanessa Hudgens (as Kelly, the trigger-happy young cop), Paola Nunez (as Rita, the head of a new, tech-savvy crime squad called "AMMO"), Alexander Ludwig (as Dorn, the buff pacifist), and Charles Melton (as Rafe, the suave ladies' man).

The film's early scenes gamely try to recreate the chemistry between Smith's Mike and Lawrence's Marcus but the rust in the actors' interaction is evident. They're groping for it and not quite getting there. Then, in a hail of gunfire, Mike gets shot up by would-be cartel-funded assassin Armando Aretas (Jacob Scipio), and the Bad Boys' dynamic changes. Marcus makes a promise to God that if Mike survives, he'll be done with violence. Unsurprisingly, Mike survives the trauma but he has no patience with Marcus' newfound spirituality. He wants his revenge, preferably served cold. To get it, he is forced to team up with the four-member AMMO squad while Marcus stays at home and babysits his new grandson. Armando, taking orders from his witch-mother Isabel (Kate del Castillo), has a sizable hit list that includes everyone responsible for his father's death and mother's incarceration. After failing to removed Mike with the first try, he's bound to make a second attempt but only after finishing the rest of his unfinished business.

Bay isn't involved beyond a cameo but his successors, Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Billal Fallah, do their best to replicate his style: explosions, gunfire, someone rolling on the ground in slow motion, the camera circling the action two or three times, rapid-fire cuts so fast that you don't know what the hell is happening, more explosions, more fast cuts, more slow motion, and so on. Bad Boys for Life is arguably less chaotic-seeming than the earlier films for two reasons: there's a lot more exposition to slow things down and the actors have aged beyond the point where they could credibly perform nonstop action. In fact, the film's subtext is about (as Danny Glover often puts it) being too old for this shit.

The sad thing about Bad Boys for Life is that it introduces some interesting elements but, apparently suffering from extreme ADHD, can't stick with them. They become throwaway plot points. Mike is severely wounded but, a few scenes later, he's back to his usual self. Marcus is on a spiritual journey until it becomes inconvenient and provides an opportunity for a one-liner. One character's death is quickly dismissed after a couple of scenes of heavy-duty mourning. There's also a really weird parallel to Smith's previous film, Gemini Man. It feels like one of the three credited screenwriters might have attempted to do something interesting with Bad Boys for Life but anything that didn't fit neatly into the formula was excised or truncated. A crashing helicopter is a better fit for a Bad Boys movie than a meditation about what happens when the moral journeys of two close friends diverge.

I don't think anyone expects Bad Boys for Life to scale the same box office heights as Bad Boys II but the lower production costs will allow a smaller gross to result in profitability (and the greenlighting of Bad Boys 4). There's nothing here to justify the film's existence or reward the looooooong wait of those fans who have been expecting this movie for more than a decade. It's more of the same: Violence-saturated eye candy used to buff Smith's ego and inflate his bank account. It serves its purpose: an attempt to re-start a dormant franchise to give Sony another bankable series. The reek of desperation is so strong that it permeates every frame and would be hard to miss by even the most distracted of viewers.

© 2020 James Berardinelli