Movie Review: Bad Boys for Life
By Matthew Huntley
January 30, 2020
This review of “Bad Boys For Life” comes a couple weeks after the movie hit theaters. I originally intended to see it opening weekend, but then life happened, and here we are. Why is my lateness relevant? Because I wanted to provide some context for why I still chose to see and write about “Bad Boys For Life” well after its window of highest review readership already passed, not to mention when there are so many other choices out there during this current Oscar season.
The reason was sheer curiosity. You see, I consider “Bad Boys II” (2003) to be one of the worst movie-watching experiences of my life. Sitting through Michael Bay’s overlong, hyper-stylized, excessively violent, and unduly mean-spirted two-and-a-half hour noise-fest, which simultaneously functioned as a shouting match between stars Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, was a grueling ordeal. I walked away from it feeling angry and offended and with a “How dare you?” attitude toward all who had a hand in making it.
So why even bother with “Bad Boys For life”? Because I had to see whether or not the filmmakers could produce another installment that was just as vile as its predecessor, or perhaps more so. I would be shocked if they could. And in fact my curiosity only grew over the past two weeks after learning just how well the film is doing at the box-office and that its overall reviews are positive. It sounds ridiculous to say this about a “Bad Boys” movie, but I had to see it for myself, if only to see what all the fuss is about.
As it turns out, there’s not that much fuss to speak of, and perhaps there never was. It’s likely I turned the positive reviews and financial success of “Bad Boys For Life” into something they’re not simply because I had such a negative reaction to “Bad Boys II.” Realistically, the film’s critical and audience reception are merely above average for the genre. However, they still surprise me.
That being said, now that I’ve gotten a chance to take the movie in and come down from my “Bad Boys II” rant, I can legitimately report there’s nothing particularly special about “Bad Boys For Life.” It’s neither a good movie nor a bad movie, but just a typical, overblown, shoot-‘em-up action buddy movie, replete with playful character banter; bro love; car chases; loud gun battles; over-the-top explosions; helicopters falling from the skies; slow motion stunts; and several other implausible sequences that leave you feeling drained and thirsty. Although, to be fair, none of these leave you feeling angry or offended, so it’s already and improvement on the last one.
Lawrence and Smith are back, although for the first time in the series Smith gets top billing. They continue their Odd Couple-ish partnership as two of Miami’s most reckless detectives, with Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett acting as the cautious, insecure and winy voice of reason to Smith’s laid back, dangerous, and overconfident Mike Lowrey.
The movie opens with the two of them speeding across the city streets in Mike’s shiny blue Porsche, running through red lights, swerving in and out of lanes, and not giving one iota about any potential accidents they may cause. But, the way these movies have always operated is that any collateral damage is always worth it if it’s in the name of Marcus and Mike’s police work, and the movie is a whole lot easier to take once you accept the characters’ inflated egos and tunnel-vision mentality toward their own desires.
In this particular case, however, Marcus and Mike aren’t speeding to chase bad guys. They’re rushing to the hospital, where Marcus’ daughter Megan (Bianca Bethune) has just given birth. Mike says to the glowing Marcus, “You’re a pop-pop,” news that Marcus reflects on deeply—so much, in fact, Marcus decides to retire.
Of course, Mike doesn’t want to hear any of this. “Ride together. Die together. Bad Boys for life, remember?” And sure enough, when Mike is nearly assassinated at the hands of a sharpshooting gunman who whizzes by on a motorcycle, it jumpstarts the plot of the heroes vowing to each other, “One last time,” and embarking on a mission to uncover the mastermind behind a series of recent high-profile killings, including lawyers, judges and cops, with the latest being Mike. Lucky for Mike he’s able to survive and make a full recovery despite being shot in the chest three times.
How are all the victims connected? Each played a role in the takedown of a notorious Mexican drug cartel, and now Isabel (Kate del Castillo), the widow of the cartel’s fallen leader and fresh off her own prison escape, wants revenge. She enlists her son Armando (Jacob Scipio) to do her bidding and take back control of the drug operation. She also stipulates that Mike must be killed last, for reasons I’ll not reveal.
With this latest installment, “Bad Boys” joins other action movie franchises, including “Die Hard,” “The Expendables,” “Terminator,” “Indiana Jones” and “Rambo,” among others, that center around the once death-defying heroes no longer being as young as they used to be. The formula doesn’t always work, and some of aforementioned series should simply stop breeding sequels, but one of the fresher qualities of “Bad Boys For Life” is the way it takes Marcus and Mike’s, and invariably Lawrence and Smith’s, ages into account and how it enlivens an otherwise routine plot.
For starters, Marcus and Mike’s maturity has finally brought the characters down to earth somewhat and they now seem less cruel and more humble, which also makes them more likable. They still yell and curse a lot, but they also discuss things like love, God and family, which lends them a bit more dimension.
Their sudden brushes with life and mortality have also made Marcus and Mike more willing to work with others. We see this when their nervous, Pepto Bismol-guzzling police captain (Joe Pantoliano) orders them to team up with a new division known as AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations), which uses state of the art technology like drones to infiltrate bad guys’ headquarters. AMMO is headed by Mike’s ex-girlfriend Rita (Paola Nuñez). She leads Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Rafe (Charles Melton), all of whom add nice support and take good-humored jabs at Marcus and Mike for being “over the hill.That’s not to say Marcus and Mike still two don’t challenge the laws of physics when it comes to the ways they move, shoot, drive, hold on for dear life, or smoothly slide across the floor. None of this is believable, of course, but it comes as a relief that directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah don’t take them nearly as seriously as former director Michael Bay, who gets relegated to a cameo, which is enough. And despite all the killings and explosions in the plot, Arbi and Fallah maintain an overall light tone. Deep down, we get the impression they know this all silly and meant to be escapist fun.Still, silly and fun don’t always translate to entertaining. In the end, the best endorsement I have “Bad Boys For Life” is that it’s bearable, especially compared to its brethren. As an action buddy movie, despite a few unexpected pluses here and there, it’s not especially original, funny, exciting or interesting, and this is mostly due to the screenplay merely serving as a clothesline connecting extended and exaggerated action sequences that are nothing special and the likes of which—high speed chases; characters dangling from ladders or balconies; knife fights; people getting pushed through walls—we’ve seen time and again.
All of these are competently executed and there are some decent chuckles along the way as Marcus and Mike continue to grow and poke fun at each other, but action movies of this scale should be more than just bearable. If I’m going to spend 124 minutes watching one so lavishly produced, it should provide me with legitimate thrills and pleasure. However, I’ll take the movie being generally harmless and routine over belligerent and excruciating. The filmmakers appear to be learning and growing themselves, which is good, so maybe by the time “Bad Boys IV” comes along, which I’m not exactly hoping will happen, I’ll be able watch and recommend it based on its own merits and not the degree to which it’s disassociated itself from “Bad Boys II.”