We’ve come a long way since the bygone era of exhilarating mid-’90s action epics, with Michael Bay’s 1995 buddy cop jaunt Bad Boys arriving just as Smith began to shine as brightly as he ever would, kicking off a hot streak that would last well into the first quarter of the next century with blockbuster after blockbuster consistently met with a wealth of profits and critical acclaim.
Bad Boys capitalized on the disposable nature of films at the time, ones that seemed far more bent on delivering a substance-less, enjoyable time at the theater with the latter’s greatest trait being the undeniable chemistry between Smith and co-star Martin Lawrence. 2003 would give audiences a sequel, Bad Boys II, again helmed by Bay who, by that point, had firmly established himself a true master of high profile motion picture schlock, now accompanied by a wave of both negative reviews & middling box office receipts, both of which seemingly ensuring that audiences had seen the last of the duo’s on-screen exploits.
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That said, now a whopping seventeen years removed from the unnecessary second outing and with Smith in the unfortunate spot of recent years filled with more duds than thuds that seem to indicate his draw just isn’t what it used to be, could the second follow-up to the ’95 original, the suitably named Bad Boys for Life, represent a return to form for the once-guaranteed box office hotshot?
Bad Boys for Life: Thud or Dud?
The plot? Irrelevant. That’s not necessarily a cop-out either, as the premise is that some international criminals are out for revenge, apparently, and they have directed their vitriol towards Smith’s Mike Lowrey. Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett, on the other hand, spends much of the film begging for retirement after 25 years of successful partnership with Lowrey, largely motivated by the birth of his grandson and an attack of conscience during the first act.
There also exists a squad of young guns in the form of a special division meant to either assist Lowrey & Burnett in their investigations or serve as a 21st-century replacement for the aging duo, with the likes of Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, and Paola Nunez rounding out said team with varying degrees of acting ability.
Nunez, in particular, has some romantic history with Lowrey, with this sort of franchise pseudo-retconning occurring more than once throughout the film’s 124 minutes. Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio also exist as a mother-son villainous duo but neither of them particularly shine but both aren’t necessarily bad, just average
If the hallmark of a good film is in the quality of its big bad(s), then Bad Boys for Life sadly offers nothing more than a whimper in this regard. Even Joe Pantoliano, who returns as Captain Howard & again playing a character of which the veteran character actor seems tailor-made by this point, and DJ Khaled’s one respectable scene as a person of interest in Lowrey’s hunt, are at the end of the day just there, and completely forgotten by the time the credits roll.
To put it simply, if you’ve seen the predecessors, you’ve seen this film, even with writing assistance by Joe Carnahan and a needed change in the director’s seat with Bay replaced by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, though Bay does still manage to weasel his way into a few seconds of stolen screentime.
Lorne Balfe provides the ominous score now seemingly copy-and-pasted from every similar film of this ilk nowadays, though even that’s overshadowed by far too many instances of Smith & Lawrence singing the Bad Boys theme, which itself plays in the background at least twice. If you’re a die-hard fan of this ancient tune, you’re likely within Bad Boys for Life’s target audience, but as someone who burned out on watching far too many episodes of Cops throughout my teenage years, hearing it even once immediately made the time I spent in a theater seat feel nothing short of dated.
Bad Boys for Life: A Return To 90s Action
In that sense, Bad Boys for Life truly is a perfect throwback to those halcyon days of ‘90s-era action, from the moment the fossilized Simpson/Bruckheimer production logo kicks things off. The pacing, though in need of some fine-tuning, is fortunately balanced by some decent action and the undeniable chemistry of Smith & Lawrence, even if Smith far overshadows Lawrence in terms of acting chops.
This may very well be one of his better, more natural performances in years. Admittedly, Lawrence isn’t the worst, but his return to the role of Marcus Burnett benefits greatly whenever he & Smith share the screen. The dialogue, balance, and overall enjoyment both seem to be having back in the Bad Boys saddle can’t help but feel supremely infectious.
It’s refreshing to see Smith somewhat return to form, and even Lawrence as he settles once more into his now-trademark role as a sideman from which his filmography can’t seem to escape. Without the two together once more, Bad Boys for Life would undeniably end up just another film, another stab at an attempt to take the action movies we loved into a time where such a film may no longer fit in as easily.
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Those rousing moments of action do nothing to rescue the rest of the average cast, though not one person from start to finish appeared disinterested in the job they were doing at any particular moment. This may be the greatest strength of the film, once that wraps itself around audiences like a familiar blanket and in possession of nostalgia for days gone by. When the cost of a ticket one could relax in the thrill of a movie meant to heighten reality for a few hours and deliver an experience that’s nothing short of fun. It’s not great, but like the eponymous pair that’s carried the franchise, it gets the job done.
Without the return of Will Smith & Martin Lawrence, Bad Boys for Life would undeniably end up just another film, another stab at an attempt to take the action movies we loved into a time where such a film may no longer fit in as easily.