It took eight years to get a sequel to Michael Bay’s 1995 action hit, Bad Boys. And now, seventeen years after Bay’s Bad Boys II, the threequel has finally gone through development hell to explode onto our screens.
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are back as cops Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, reprising the roles that helped establish them as household names and placed Smith on the path to becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. The first film was an energetic, violent affair that had the Jerry Bruckheimer/Don Simpson production brand stamped across it and suited the style of at-the-time-newcomer Michael Bay to a T. 2003’s Bad Boys II saw Bay going all out, gleefully ramping up the violence, throwing in highly irreverent humour, and showcasing some big-budget mayhem with elaborate action set pieces.
Bay doesn’t return to direct chapter three, with helming duties this time going to Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, whose previous credits include crime pic Gangsta and Black. So, with a change in director and with almost two decades since the sequel, where does Bad Boys for Life (Bad Boys 4 Life could’ve been the title for movie 4, though) film land in the trilogy? As a fan of the two previous films, and particularly the crazy second, I’d say somewhere in between. A relief!
Bad Boys for Life kicks off with Mike and Marcus on a high-speed sequence that culminates in something familial, quickly establishing the Lethal Weapon-esque trope of cop buddies that are getting too old for this sh*t. The age factor of our two heroes is a big focus of the third chapter, a natural narrative progression that’s handled surprisingly well. Sure, Marcus continues to have the same qualms with Mike’s lifestyle and care-free attitude, but as Marcus’ family becomes more important than ever and Mike is reminded of his mortality, there’s a weight to it now.
Amidst the bullets and quips, the through-line is wisely kept on the pair’s relationship. Much of what makes this film work comes down to the undeniable chemistry that Smith and Lawrence continue to hold. The pair is on fire here, bouncing off each other with love and annoyance like it’s barely been a day since ’03. And, importantly, their rapport is still funny.
Without giving away plot details, Bad Boys for Life has the pair dealing with life and ageing alongside a flimsy ‘get the bad guy’ plot with a couple of villains that aren’t all that interesting. A key plot turn that attempts to tie it all together and add gravitas towards the end, unfortunately, doesn’t ring true and does little to fix the indifference felt around these baddies. Luckily, it all moves at an infectiously energetic pace that makes the film’s latter “drama” easier to run through.
The story introduces some new faces to the franchise, including new young cops played by Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton. They’re light, fun additions, and as the film progresses, it’s clear that the studio is eyeing what possibilities lay ahead if the franchise continues. It appears they may be taking a page out of the Fast & Furious team and family-building concept.
Arbi and Fallah showcase some smooth direction and nicely keep in line with Bay’s established style in the first two films. It’s still slick and glossy, and the swooping camera shots are still there. Both on the filmmaking and scripted ends of things, there are plenty of nods for fans of the previous films to feel right at home. Mostly.
As mentioned, I’m a fan of the craziness that Bay cranked up to with Bad Boys II, and I was keen for the franchise to continue in that direction – both in terms of ambitious action and inappropriate humour. Depending on how you personally felt about that sequel, the decision to dial things back a bit for this third film can either prove to be beneficial or not. Admittedly, I may be in the minority with wanting much more insanity than is delivered here, but that being said, the humour is more character-driven and more easily digestible for the crowds this time.
While there aren’t any real calling card moments, such as Bad Boys II‘s insane highway sequence, the action is nevertheless quite solid, with plenty of fun gunplay, cool slo-mo and an exciting motorcycle/sidecar sequence that manages to deliver laughs as well. Although, I did have a few qualms with some of the iffy CG that pops up now and then – particularly during the fiery finale.
Bad Boys for Life has a job to do and it mostly does it well. Considering how long it’s been between drinks and the risk associated with staying “on brand” for older audiences as well as new ones, it deserves kudos for how much it gets right. And now we can only hope it won’t be another seventeen years until the next one.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Bad Boys for Life’ is in Australian cinemas from January 16 and US cinemas from January 17, 2020.