BAD BOYS FOR LIFE review by Mark Walters – Will Smith & Martin Lawrence are back in action

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE review by Mark Walters – Will Smith & Martin Lawrence are back in action

When BAD BOYS hit theaters in 1995, it helped make a blockbuster movie star out of Will Smith, pushed Martin Lawrence into a string of big budget comedies, and made an A-list director out of Michael Bay. Produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the new take on the buddy cop comedy borrowed heavily from some of the beloved tropes of films like BEVERLY HILLS COP and LETHAL WEAPON, and other films like them, but was smart enough to take two very popular sitcom stars (Smith and Lawrence) and make them unlikely action heroes. The film was a hit, even spawned a sequel in 2003, which was bigger and louder, but seemed to lack some of the charm of the original. In the years that followed, talk of a third film came and went, and it always seemed like a possibility. Lawrence has retreated from the public eye a bit, and Smith has had some questionable cinematic efforts, some of which failed so badly it made people wonder if his box office draw had become a thing of the past. This weekend reunites the duo for “one last time”, and the results are surprisingly solid. This also comes as a surprise since the trailers for the film have been just okay, and January is typically a month where Hollywood dumps movies they think won’t do very well. This third outing has gone through a few changes since its inception, originally meant to be a Joe Carnahan film (he co-wrote the screenplay), it’s directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, with Jerry Bruckheimer and Will Smith producing. While Michael Bay won’t be back for this one, there are rumors he may return for a potential fourth film, should the third prove to be successful.

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE opens with Detectives Mike Lowery (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) in a slick and very fast car racing through the streets at highly dangerous speeds, in what we can only imagine is a pursuit of a criminal. But we soon learn they’re headed to the hospital to witness Marcus’ daughter giving birth to his first grandchild. This scene even features a nice callback to BAD BOYS II, which gets us off to a good start, and shows us this latest outing is very much the third part of a trilogy. This important event also sparks Marcus to tell Mike he’s retiring, that his family needs to come first in his life now. Mike refuses to believe Marcus is serious, but perhaps fears what his life will be if Marcus is no longer part of it. Even Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) seems to think these guys can’t exist apart, looking past his own love/hate relationship with the duo. Meanwhile, in Mexico City, a dangerous woman named Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo) is broken out of prison by her son Armando (Jacob Scipio), and we find out she has a mission for him to kill some of her old enemies – the last of which is none other than Mike Lowery. And he almost does just that, taking Mike out at a policeman party for Marcus. With Mike clinging to life in the hospital, Marcus swears to God if he’ll give his dear friend one more chance, then he’ll make sure he personally never does anything to bring more violence into this world. Mike eventually heals and wants revenge, but Marcus sticks to his guns and refuses to ride with his friend any longer, prompting Captain Howard to partner Mike an a “consultant” with a tactical team called AMMO, which is comprised of young hot shot cops with modern technical skills. Heading up AMMO is Rita (Paola Nuñez), a confident woman who also happens to be the girl that got away from Mike.

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE in an interesting third part to a trilogy, in that so much of it looks and feels familiar, but the absence of Michael Bay definitely leads to a different sort of film… yet one that still seems to be very fitting for the franchise. The directing team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah clearly get the style and flash that made the first two films so memorable, and basically modernized it and made it work for today’s moviegoing sensibilities. While I like some of Michael Bay’s movies, his style looks very late-90s to early-2000s, and it does feel like we’ve matured past that a bit with modern cinema. That’s not to say his techniques aren’t still fun from time to time, but it’s refreshing to see these characters through a slightly different lens. At first I felt like we were watching a Joe Carnahan film, which makes sense as this was at one point meant to be his production, and still uses some of his script ideas. Even the tone and comedy comes across a bit more mature in some ways, with multiple strong emotional beats that really land strongly.

There’s certainly points to be made about how Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have aged since the last movie (which was 17 years ago), and if you go back and re-watch the 1995 movie, they look like babies by comparison. Smith has aged considerably well, looking fit and muscular, and still holding on to his youthful qualities quite nicely. Lawrence looks a bit thicker now, in some scenes more than others, but hasn’t lost a step comedically and even physically. There’s more maturity in this script than the previous BAD BOYS outings, and that works well knowing the actors themselves appear older and wiser anyway. Smith’s character must deal with some of his past demons this time around, and we actually get a bit of unexpected background as to how the sleek and stylish Mike Lowery came to be. For Lawrence, the character of Marcus Burnett develops through being a family man and finding purpose after the birth of his grandchild. There’s a terrific moment where he must turn down Mike in favor of his own responsibilities, and it shows how these characters are growing beyond simple archetypes. The supporting cast is great too, with fantastic moments for Joe Pantoliano and newcomer Paola Nuñez, and the AMMO team of millennials who transcend expectations thanks to the well-balanced script – everyone gets their moment to shine, even smaller characters, and that’s a rare thing in these types of movies.

One of the signature aspects of the BAD BOYS franchise is great action sequences, and they’re equally impressive here, though perhaps a bit more adult in their own right. Gun fights are brutal and at times uncomfortable to watch, and the violence is more shocking than funny, which again helps elevate the stakes a bit this time around. While some of the sequences aren’t as over-the-top as what we’ve seen before, somehow the intense moments seem more desperate and serious. Even the musical score by Lorne Balfe has an oddly appropriate elegance to it, while still paying homage to the classic BAD BOYS themes. This feels like a last chapter to a trilogy, but still manages to set things up for a potential sequel, should that become a thing.

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE is a surprisingly fun and at times matured sequel that helps course correct the popular trilogy. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence once again have great chemistry, and the film itself is a treat and offers some unexpected twists and turns to keep things interesting. The action sequences are phenomenal and innovative, really taking the buddy cop genre to the next level. In a time of year where we’re conditioned to not expect much from Hollywood, this is a truly satisfying highlight.

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE opens January 17, 2020

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.