The 25 year partnership of Miami police detectives Mike Lowry (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) is coming to an end, as new grandfather Marcus decides to take up an early retirement. When Mike is targeted for assassination by Mexican drug lords, however, the partnership needs to be kept together for just a few days longer.
2019 was a blood-soaked massacre for Hollywood’s attempts to revive old franchises. New iterations of Charlie’s Angels, The Terminator, Men in Black, and Hellboy all came and went, leaving million-dollar craters over the box office landscape. It seems nostalgia simply is not what it used to be; brand recognition alone is not going to cut into audiences and deliver healthy returns. One assumes Sony were apprehensive, then, about their first blockbuster release of 2020: Bad Boys for Life, the third film of a franchise that has not seen the inside of a movie theatre in 17 years.
Thankfully for those whose jobs were on the line, it seems the film has had a very lucrative opening weekend in the USA; so good, in fact, that before the weekend was out Sony have confirmed development on a Bad Boys 4. Is the film itself any good? To be honest that is really going to depend on your opinion of the Bad Boys movies in general.
Bad Boys for Life presents itself as an authentic sequel to Bad Boys, in that it boasts the same cast, tone, and visual aesthetic – to the point of specific shots deliberately referencing iconic shots from the original film. The disastrous remounts of 2019 all tended towards reinvention, while here the formula that succeeded two times before is simply presented for a third time. It openly acknowledges time has passed – there is a frequently visited seam of ‘too old for this shit’ Lethal Weapon rhetoric – but by-and-large offers a reassuring formula of fast cars, comedic banter, and over-the-top gunfights. Visually you would not necessarily realise Michael Bay is no longer directing for the franchise. His replacements, Belgian directors Bilall Fallah and Adil el Arbi, do not slavishly copy his style but do have one of their own that sits very comfortably beside it.
If you have an affection for Michael Bay’s two Bad Boys pictures of years past you will almost certainly enjoy Bad Boys For Life. The passage of time is openly acknowledged, but the camaraderie between the two leads emerges intact and the same sense of humour returns. It is a little less male-dominated, with at least four prominent female characters. Smith and Lawrence act with a clear affection for their roles and partnership, and there is a clear difference between this and most of the belated sequels that crashed and burned in the past 12 months: audiences are getting the same actors and characters that they saw the first time around.
The storyline is, of course, an absolute nonsense about Mexican drug kingpins, cries of revenge, car chases, explosions, and being ‘bad boys for life’. It is not difficult to follow, but it is deeply unbelievable and very silly. In short, it is a Bad Boys film. I always like to review films with three questions: what is the film trying to do, does it succeed in that goal, and is it actually any good? To be blunt, the answer to the final question is almost certainly a resounding ‘no’. The answer to the first, though? It really is a simple equation of Will Smith plus Martin Lawrence plus guns, cars, and pretty women. On that level it cannot really be described as anything but a success. You will like it if you like it, if you take my meaning. I certainly had more time for it than I was expecting.
One interesting aspect of the film worth nothing is how far it goes in expanding the narrative to include a new team of Miami super-cops armed with high-technology surveillance equipment, expert combat training, and lots of guns. There is a clear attempt underway to stretch the franchise out to rival – and presumably intended to replace – Universal’s massively successful Fast and Furious franchise. I would not bat an eyelid to see a fourth Bad Boys within a few years sidelining Smith and Lawrence in favour of these new characters.