Bad Boys for Life (2020)

I’m a child of the 1980’s and as a result I have a cheesy love for classic 80’s high-concept ‘buddy cop’ action movies such as the Lethal Weapon series. Somewhere around 1988, and the subsequent release of the movie that changed the Action Movie genre pretty much forever, Die Hard, audiences seemed to favor less cartoonish, more realistic film heroes and it showed at the Box Office. The success of THAT action movie classic spawned a plethora of imitators, some surprisingly good, like 1994’s Speed and some not-so-good, such as 1991’s Toy Soldiers. Then…in 1995, the world was reintroduced to the buddy cop genre through Bad Boys, a clear throwback to the previous decade, and the world’s introduction to Michael Bay, for better or worse. I saw this flick in the theatre the year I graduated high school…and I loved it! See, one of my favorite directors EVER is, and always will be, the late great Tony Scott (True Romance). No matter what the subject or the quality of the script, Tony Scott’s films had this unique, MTV-friendly sheen that expertly used multi-camera set-ups, long lenses and rapid-fire editing to the very best effect, in my humble opinion. Michael Bay was also clearly a fan, and borrowed VERY heavily from Tony’s bag of tricks…admittedly to mostly solid results, at least early on. So Bad Boys hit…and was a crass, unapologetically stylish blast of rapid-fire comedy and hard-hitting action, thanks to the onscreen chemistry of leads Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and the sure hands of novice director Bay and Hollywood heavyweight producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. And thus began the meteroric rise of the careers of Bay and Smith, with Bay delivering another action hit the next year with one of his best, The Rock and Smith blowing up huge with Independence Day, also in 1996.

Then there was Bad Boys 2 (2003). This is what happens when Michael Bay is let off the leash, creatively and financially, and allowed to delve back into the harrowing and hilarious lives of Miami Detectives ‘Mike Lowrey’ (Smith) and ‘Marcus Burnett’ (Lawrence). Holy fuck!…this flick is a mess, in so many ways. It always seems like when Bay is given a substantial budget, he just goes nuts…no restraint at all. Hell, just look at shit like Armageddon (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001) and almost the entirety of that fucking Transformers franchise. Clumsy, excessive garbage with almost no grace or subtlety. Bad Boys 2 is one of THOSE. With the exception of a couple solid action scenes (the Freeway Chase and the Haitian Hideout Shootout leap to mind), it’s a childishly misogynistic, hyper-violent, cocaine-fueled adolescent fantasy that overstays it’s welcome by almost a full 30 minutes and shows off the some of the worst of what’s become known as Bayhem, some of which is straight up offensive to anyone with half a brain and an iota of self respect. A couple decent action scenes aside, the saving grace for that piece of shit of a movie is the still-rockin chemistry of Smith and Lawrence, coupled with the return of the hilariously grouchy Captain Howard, as played by the always welcome Joe Pantoliano (The Goonies). Beyond that, it’s not one I go out of my way to watch again, though I do recognize that it did make some serious bank at the Box Office.

But then the franchise fell into limbo, aka Development Hell. Of the many directors in line to take a crack at the flick for returning producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the name that I found most intriguing was Joe Carnahan (Smokin Aces), coming aboard as both writer and director. I was excited about this, as Carnahan is another from the School of Scott and I’ve loved / liked every film of his that I’ve seen. This looked promising. But then…as things often do in Tinseltown, that plan fell apart. Back to Development Hell it went. After many stops and starts, and 17 years later (Wow!), Bad Boys for Life aka Bad Boys 3, was finally announced and filming began, with a pair of Morrocan-born, Belgian-bred directors going by Abdil and Billal replacing Bay in the Directors Chair, with a script that was at least partially credited to Carnahan. I was prepared to dismiss it out of hand, as generally it’s the 3rd film in a franchise that tends to fuck things up, often under the direction of a different director then the preceding entries (*think Jurassic Park). But the trailers SEEMED to show a stylistic flourish reminiscent of what had come before, so that, coupled with increasingly positive word-of-mouth, had me curious. I went and saw 1917 last weekend (GO SEE IT!), but vowed to catch BB3 next weekend…which was today.

Bad Boys for Life catches up with detectives ‘Lowrey’ (Smith) and ‘Burnett’ (Lawrence) 17 years later, as both men are dealing with Middle Age in their own ways, with ‘Marcus’ on his way to retirement, with a grand-son newly arrived, while ‘Mike’ is taking stock of his station in life as well, and not liking what he’s seeing. This is violently interrupted when a mysterious hit-man begins taking out people from ‘Mike’s past, putting him and those around him in mortal danger. To counter this threat, the detectives join an elite autonomous unit called AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations), consisting of a plucky squad of younger cops, led by a former flame of ‘Mike’s named ‘Rita’ (Paolo Nunez). This leads to many a wisecrack and shootout, with some shocking revelations along the way!

Generally movies that studios lack faith in get dumped into the market in January, where they are expected to quietly die and disappear, so I was a little concerned that Sony and Bruckheimer were having their doubts about a Bayless sequel. If they WERE having concerns, they needn’t worry…as this is a solid entry to this franchise that does NOT embarrass the first two (the second one easily takes the trophy on that!) and even improves on them, lending backstory to our main characters that we never got previously while narrowing the focus and making the stakes more intimidate than…say…a fucking invasion of Cuba by the Miami-Dade PD…fuck you, Bad Boys 2!! However improbable, BB3 actually has a smidgen of emotional gravity running beneath the nothing-new script, something which the Bay flicks noticeably lacked with the Style Over Substance motif that has always defined Bay to a T. With that said, let’s get to it.

Does Bad Boys for Life fit into the established ‘universe’? I can confidently answer with a Yes. And I would even go so far as to call this the most technically proficient of the 3 Bad Boys movies. Abdil and Billal most certainly studied Bay’s signature style, which is a large part of what defines the first two flicks, and took notes along the way. Numerous compositions and edits scream “Michael Bay!” convincingly, but the new fellas also inject some new material into the proceedings, most noticeably increased use of static or drone shots and a more patient pace that gave the story a little more time to breath, which was surprisingly welcome, especially compared to the insensitive coke-fueled carnage of Bad Boys 2.

Do the characters work? Again…yes. Of course Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are champs and bring their A-game to the party as if no time had passed since their last outing. But the supporting cast I found to be an intriguing and entertaining bunch too, namely the AMMO team. Aside from the dead-sexy Nunez, we also get the equally delicious Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton. Countering this group is the mother and son duo of Isabel and Armando Aretes (the also gorgeous Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio) and I thought they were a compelling pair of villains that actually posed a personal threat to our heroes, with some interesting ticks to help define them.

What about as an Action Flick? One thing the Bad Boys flicks do well is action scenes, and BB3 is no different. Abdil and Billal know what they’re doing behind the camera and they deliver a handful of exciting, hard-hitting action sequences that I had no complaints about…some ropey-looking green screen work aside. On a technical level, everything does what it should, with the somewhat generic score (did love the classic Mark Mancina Bad Boys theme though!) and kinetic burst of gunfire and explosions rocking the theatre appropriately.

Stylistically and technically, I don’t have many issues at all, with the exception of the aforementioned green-screen. There isn’t much of it, but what’s there is noticeable and for a split second would remove me from the excitement of the scene it was in. It just seemed funny, given Sony’s and Bruckheimer’s cash behind this thing. On a story level, while I did like how certain characters histories were expanded upon, there is a twist involving one character that was cheesy and hard to swallow, as this character’s actions easily put he / she well into Beyond Redemption territory. It was the one thing where I physically rolled my eyes when it happened. But then more gunfire and wisecracks erupted…and I was back in.

All in all, beyond many an odd…Bad Boys for Life is a success that all involved should be proud of. 17 years later, two freshmen directors pick up the torch and run it to the Finish Line with nary a stumble, capitalizing on the still-crackling, yet appropriately subdued chemistry of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and the support of Sony and Bruckheimer. The action scenes are kinetic and exciting, the banter is often funny, the returning characters haven’t lost their touch and the new cast all contribute to the story in one way or another and actually left me wanting to see more of their shenanigans (which I understand we MIGHT get). I appreciated the added character depth that emerged and how it was aided by a pace that took it’s time when it needed to. I also appreciated the lack of Michael Bay’s adolescent brand of misogyny. Even though several of the female cast members are VERY easy on the eyes, they all got to contribute something meaningful and / or cool to the narrative. Strangely, I noticed the main three were all very athletic and solidly built (but not in that monstrous She-Hulk kinda way) which added to the allure but also lent credibility to the idea that these women were capable and determined ass-kickers who could handle themselves in a scrap. I’m always ok with that! And obviously I’m OK with Bad Boys for Life. If you’re a fan of the BB franchise, this one will hit the spot, even if you’re skeptical about Michael Bay’s lack of involvement (though he does have a strange cameo in the 1st Act). It’s a fun and funny action-packed romp and sometimes that’s all you need. I enjoyed seeing it on The Big Screen…but if you opt to check out the bad boys shenanigans on disc or streaming, it’s 2 hours and 4 minutes of fun and excitement in classic buddy cop fashion.

Ride together…die together.”

*Stick around for the credits. I saw two quick, amusing scenes cut into them that DEFINITELY hint at another adventure in store for our Miami PD Bad Boys.

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