A film review by Craig J. Koban January 31, 2020


2020, R, 124 mins.

Will Smith as Detective Mike Lowrey  /  Martin Lawrence as Detective Marcus Burnett  /  Derrick Gilbert as Kid  /  Vanessa Hudgens as Kelly  /  Alexander Ludwig as Dorn  /  Joe Pantoliano as Captain Howard  /  Charles Melton as Rafe  /  Paola Nuņez as Rita

Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah  /  Written by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan



My filmgoing life would have been perfectly fine without the existence of another BAD BOYS sequel.  Coming an awfully long time after the last entry in this action comedy franchise involving two motor-mouthed and reckless cops  (a full 17 years, to be exact), BAD BOYS FOR LIFE doesn't get props for release punctuality.  To be fair, it doesn't hit the aggressively self indulgent levels of masturbatory excess and wretched bloat of its 2003 antecedent (still, for my money, one of the most thoroughly unwatchable sequels ever made), but this third BAD BOYS outing remains just as cheaply disposable and forgettable as an egregious, cash grabbing star vanity project.  Modest attempts are made at traversing down new franchise story territory, but for the most part BAD BOYS FOR LIFE is on pure creative autopilot. 

Stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence obviously are having a good time making this mostly unnecessary sequel, and look good doing so (Smith has always had a rather ageless movie star mug, whereas Lawrence looks a tad pudgier and worse for wear).   A quarter of a century have passed since the Michael Bay helmed franchise starting original, which introduced us all to this pair of endlessly bickering, mismatched buddy cops.  Now, Detectives Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Smith) face their biggest nemesis to date...old age!  Burnett, as the film opens, is about to become a grandfather (gasp!) and starts to have second thoughts about his throw caution to the wind "bad boys" law enforcement antics, whereas Lowrey is a true loose cannon at heart and refuses to hear any talk from his partner on the retirement front.  If only there was a nefarious enemy to crash Burnett's desire to settle down and convince him to re-join his BFF partner back on the streets in hot pursuit. 

Well, faster than you can say "Aw, hell no!" a new threat does arise in the form of Isabel (Kate del Castillo), who just broke out of a Mexican prison utilizing what appears to be witchcraft (no...really!), leaving her in an advantageous position to seek revenge against a particular cop that once burned and betrayed her big time (spoiler alert...it's Lowrey) by killing her cartel leader hubby.  Realizing that she'll need help in her plan for ultimate vengeance, Isabel enlists the aid of her son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to head to America and hunt down and assassinate anyone that was tied to the killing of his father, with Lowrey being high on the list.  After a ruthless drive-by murder attempt fails to kill Lowrey (but leads to a long physical rehab), Isabel and son step up their nefarious plan of comeuppance, leaving Lowrey begging his now retired partner to join him for one last ride to stop these crooks once and for all. 



On good levels, BAD BOYS FOR LIFE at least makes honest attempts a crafting an introspective story that delves into the advancing years of its titular heroes, and much more so than any of the action porn and Bayhem heavy prequels ever had time for.  Lowrey is going through some obligatory character beats (he has just as much of an itchy trigger finger and fragrant disregard to the law as ever), but Burnett, rather contrastingly and intriguingly, seems to want to end his policing days and put them well behind him.  Plus, it becomes clear that this duo's brand of risky law enforcement that worked in the past has become archaic in the present, leading to their short tempered Captain (a returning Joe Pantoliano) utilizing more tech heavy and computer smart squads to get results (one of which is amusing dubbed "AMMO", which is conveniently headed up by one of Lowrey's ex-flames).  This squad uses drones and low risk reconnaissance spying first and jumping in with machine guns blazing a distant second, which directly contradicts how Lowrey and Burnett like to handle themselves.  Plus, this sets us up for a lot of jokes about the physical deterioration of the two heroes, both being fiftysomethings and perhaps in out of their league now. 

So, yeah, the dramatic stakes are a tad higher this go around, which were all but AWOL in any of the previous Bay directed efforts.  It should have been noted by now that Bay has not returned behind the director's chair, which is of welcome relief to yours truly, and in his place are Belgium filmmakers Adil el Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who are collectively wise enough to correct one of the greatest sins of BAD BOYS II (that film was an absurdly and soul crushingly long 147 minutes).  BAD BOYS FOR LIFE still clocks in at a hefty two hours, but the needless filmmaking and running time gluttony of the past is thanklessly dialed in here.  Having said that, the Belgian team are perhaps still guilty of trying to copy and paste the worst aspects of Bay's directing aesthetic wholesale (minus the latter's frequent seizure inducing, eye stabbing levels of visual overkill).  BAY BOYS FOR LIFE may try to be a more intimate and insular portrait of its two super cops, but it's just as mindlessly filled with gunfire, literal fire, explosions, slow motion, and overall visual chaos of the highest order.  And yes, the ultra violence is still aplenty here (sometimes barbarically so) and the leads still scream a considerable amount of their dialogue to ear piercing levels, which is highlighted during the film's truly absurd opening sequence showcasing the pair racing through the streets and breaking just about every traffic law and safety regulation in the book...just so Burnett can make it to the hospital in time to see his grandchild being born.  And how does Lowrey afford a Porsche on a cop salary?  Aw, never mind. 

Films of this ilk are only as good as their villains, and unfortunately BAD BOYS FOR LIFE has a pretty silly and uninspired one in the form of Isabel (a black magic dispensing female antagonist is anything but subtle), which all culminates in a late, near film breaking plot twist that's as eye rollingly preposterous as they come.  Equally lame are the film's attempts at teasing potential deaths of significant characters, only then to engage in a quick game of audience placating bait and switch to artificially drum up tension and suspense.  Burnett's spiritual rehabilitation into a life of healthy normalcy is, I think, a nice addition here, but, c'mon, we wouldn't have BAD BOYS film if he didn't quickly abandon that and return to the trash talking, fist bumping, and gun touting glory days of old with Lowrey.  Every time BAD BOYS FOR LIFE tries to trek down some interesting thematic territory it regressively falls back on series status quo elements.  There is, though, some lazy and obvious attempts to FAST AND FURIOUS-ify this series with the inclusion of that aforementioned AMMO team of misfits that work with Burnett and Lowrey to launch a well oiled plan to defeat the bad guys, as well as a lot of talk about the importance of family and overcoming odds.   

Let me be clear: this is the best possible BAD BOYS film.  My two star review may seem to contradict that, but considering my absolutely disdain for their previous two installments...this...well...is definitely a marked improvement from what has come before.  I liked that BAD BOYS FOR LIFE was mercifully shorter and less of a watch checking bore than that god-awful first sequel.  I also liked that this new film wisely didn't bring Bay back to creatively quarterback it all, which is, again, a joyous relief for me (and, to a small extent, for my eyes and ears).   And I liked the initial fun factor of seeing Smith and Lawrence re-team up on the big screen (their chemistry has always been palpable, even under the worst of moments this series has had to offer).  But BAD BOYS FOR LIFE feels less like a worthwhile continuation and more like a manufactured piece of easy repackaged genre nostalgia made for quick box office gain.  It's about desperately peddling a once popular brand without making any serious alterations to established conventions, and not much else.  It does feature a big tease of a promise for a BAD BOYS 4 in the mid-end credit sequence (every film these days seems to require one), which begs a very simple question:  Why didn't the makers save the title BAD BOYS 4 LIFE for the hopeful fourth entry?  Now, the panic stricken studios heads are like, "Shit just got real!"

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