Twenty-five years have passed since detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) first suited up for Michael Bay in Bad Boys, and 17 years have passed since they joined him again for Bad Boys II.
Since the first time Bay assaulted our eyes and ears with his patented brand of cinematic garbage, I’ve grown to almost enjoy said garbage. I hated Bad Boys, but I sort of liked the outrageous Bad Boys II. Bay tends to amuse me now—unless he’s doing a Transformers movie, in which case I check out. I attribute my suddenly liking some Bay movies to brain decay due to aging, a lack of iron and a general loss of spirituality. So, I guess the bad news is that Bay passed on directing Bad Boys for Life, the third installment in the franchise. I would’ve liked to see Bay try to top the almost-self-parodying craziness that was Bad Boys II, but, alas, he was making Netflix movies with Ryan Reynolds.
The good news is that the directing team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah step up and do a sufficient job of continuing the mayhem—easily topping Bay’s lame original and providing a chapter that is as good, and sometimes better, than chapter two.
Burnett is eyeing retirement, while Lowrey is dealing with the psychological and physical ramifications of aging. (But he’s dyeing his goatee, so it’s all good.) A crazy witch-lady gangster named Isabel (Kate del Castillo) has escaped from prison and has put out a hit list for her son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to work his way through. Isabel has vengeance in mind—and the targets have connections to Lowrey.
Lowrey himself is also on that list, and he takes a couple of bullets early in the film. We aren’t giving too much away by telling you that Lowrey doesn’t die … because there’s no movie if Lowrey dies. So, after some healing time, Lowrey and a very reluctant Burnett are back in action, wise-cracking and shooting people up in slow motion.
Some familiar faces return, including Theresa Randle as Burnett’s long-suffering wife. She’s good in a subplot that has Burnett becoming a granddad while getting more time at home during his attempted retirement … which doesn’t go well. For starters, bad things happen with a ceiling-fan repair. Joe Pantoliano makes a welcome return as Pepto Bismol-swigging Capt. Howard—still a great riff on those screaming captains from the Beverly Hills Cop movies.
All the mayhem comes to an appropriately visceral and bloody conclusion, replete with big plot twists and the Smith-Lawrence duo kicking ass. When the two are allowed to riff and fly, it’s fun. There’s a big production going on around them, but it never overwhelms their star power. They are bloodier, nastier versions of Abbott and Costello.
As Bay learned with Bad Boys II, Smith and Lawrence are better in this sort of thing when everything is ridiculously over the top. The new directors know their way around an action scene, and their comic timing is strong, so there are equal levels of laughs and explosions in this installment. The movie isn’t the big joke that Bad Boys II was—Burnett’s electronics-store sex-problem confession remains the series highlight—but it is unabashedly nuts. It qualifies as a competent and promising reboot.
Please don’t take these words as high praise. I’m saying that this is relatively tasty cinematic junk food. I’m saying that it’s good enough that I’m OK with the idea of another chapter. (Bad Boys 4 is already in play.) I’m saying that there seems to be a few more Bad Boys stories to tell, and the beat goes on without Bay.
Smith and Lawrence have escaped the Men in Black and Big Momma’s House franchises, and can concentrate their combined energies on this now. This is not a bad thing.
Bad Boys for Life is playing at theaters across the valley.