Bad Boys for Life (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – The Bad Boys Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett are back together for one last ride in the highly anticipated Bad Boys for Life.

My Take – Released back in 1995, at the height of the buddy cop genre, Bad Boys, was a massive success. Adding on to Martin Lawrence‘s growing filmography, turned Will Smith into an action star, who then was mainly known for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and ignited debutante director Michael Bay‘s film career, who went on to helm two consecutive blockbusters in the form of The Rock and Armageddon.

However, the inevitable sequel which released in 2003, met with quite a divisive reception. With a much bigger budget, Bad Boys II was the definition of a super-sized sequel, with overlong sequences, over-saturated, and expensive action sequences, yet, the film despite being funny, was visually plastic, and seriously exhilarating.

While the buddy cop genre met its natural death by the end of 2010s, an idea of another follow up has always been on the cards, with various directors and writers circling the project. However, things have quite changed drastically over the last decade.

In the sense, as a director Michael Bay has become more of a joke, by immersing himself mainly into the critically lambasted Transformers series, Martin Lawrence hasn’t led a film since 2011’s Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, and Will Smith‘s only recent hit has been in the role of a CGI blue genie in Disney‘s Aladdin. Keeping all this in mind, a third go-round for the fifty something stars, seemed like a futile endeavor.

But having seen the film, I must say I am surprised by how it actually turned out. Replacing director Michael Bay, who is instead relegated to a walk-on cameo, are Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, two upcoming Belgian filmmakers, who have not only removed Bay’s bad-taste factor, but have also managed to retain the franchise’s humor and action, all the while adding some much needed heart for a fun return to form.

Most importantly, the film doesn’t feel so much like a sequel or a reboot as it does a tribute to the early Michael Bay films. In the sense, here, the patented high style feels like nostalgia for the 1990s when film violence came with dark humor and charisma. Sure, like its predecessors, it is dumb and loud, but with its heart at its right place it is also without a doubt the best one in the trilogy.

The story follows Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and his partner Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), who for years have been the best detectives of the Miami-Dade Police department. However, age is finally catching up to them, as Marcus needs glasses and Mike applies Midnight Cocoa Bean dye to his goatee. While Marcus confirms his plans for retirement, as he recently turned a grandfather, Mike turns him down as remains hungry for the adrenaline rush that comes with police work, and most importantly believes his status quo is bullet proof.

That is until, Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), a widow of a former Mexican Drug lord, who after staging her jail break sends her now grown up son, Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio), to Miami, to take down everyone who wronged her family and played a part in her husband’s death, including Mike.

With the stakes higher than ever, the two detectives must team with members of a new division called AMMO, led by Rita (Paola Núñez), and consisting of Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Rafe (Charles Melton), to put a stop to the carnage.

Plot-wise, the film is a pleasing throwback to ’90s action films, and is as ridiculous as you’d expect. But the series is hardly known for its strong stories, with this one comfortably fitting in all of the franchise’s most sobering moments, at least a couple of which come as relative surprises. While this third entry may have shown up seventeen years late, it still managed to be both funny and entertaining. It strives to deliver the complete package with some intense action, emotional drama, and hysterical laughs.

It’s not a perfect film, but it’s nevertheless an enjoyable one. Here, director Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, do an impressive job of sprucing up the series’ aesthetic while still finding room for plenty of visual nods to the earlier films, while never forgoing the departed Michael Bay’s formula for punchlines and hyper kinetic violence. Filled with wild action scenes like the opening knife sequence that’s almost gratuitously graphic, and an action set-piece on a bridge that may be the most ambitious in the series, the action sequences succeed because the CGI is kept to a minimum and the gunshots are punctuated by Lawrence’s quips.

There’s only a passing mention of Burnett’s sister (Gabrielle Union) and an obligatory callback to its predecessor’s funniest moment involving his daughter, but a lot of the film’s emotional core sits with Smith’s Mike Lowry.

Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, understand that the success or failure of the series isn’t about the story but the sparks generated by Smith and Lawrence, and the pair, fall back into their roles effortlessly, having some fun with their middle-aged selves. The film always work best when Smith and Lawrence get to quip lines back-and-forth while dodging bullets, and the easy partnership between the two remains intact, even when the film lags under its own clichés or the sentiment borders on silly. I think some of their best scenes that most people will enjoy will be the “Airplane conversation” and the “Spa Day” situation.

In the climax, there’s a twist that feels especially contrived and so many self-referential moments where Marcus and Mike seem to almost know that they’re in a film about Marcus and Mike, but there’s a breeziness to the proceedings that feels more in line with the easy fun of the 1995 original, as opposed to the frenetically hyperactive feel of its sequel.

Between the two, I’d have to say that Martin Lawrence clearly shined the most. He owned more of the funny scenes as his character continued to be the voice of reason. In that same sense, he would typically deliver the lines that audiences were probably thinking as well. So his character is definitely much more relatable and grounded. Besides Smith and Lawrence, the film also features the returns of Joe Pantoliano as their long-suffering captain, and Theresa Randle as Marcus’s long-suffering wife, who slide back into their roles with much ease.

Among the new comers, Telenovela star Kate del Castillo isn’t given a whole lot to do, but manages to shine in climax, while Jacob Scipio manages to show off his action skill set very well. Paola Núñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton and Alexander Ludwig also manage to have a few standout moments. DJ Khaled’s cameo is basically just there so we can see Smith hit him with a meat tenderizer. On the whole, ‘Bad Boys for Life’ is a fun old-fashioned buddy-cop actioner that has enough charm, humor and violence to guarantee popcorn entertainment.

Directed – Adil El Arbi (as Adil), Bilall Fallah (as Bilall)

Starring – Will Smith, Alexander Ludwig, Vanessa Hudgens

Rated – R

Run Time – 123 minutes

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