Monday, January 20, 2020


by Adam Riske
A charming and bizarre new entry in the adventures of Marcus Burnett & Mike Lowrey.

After ruminating about Bad Boys for Life, I keep asking myself: what is the Bad Boys franchise? It’s certainly a retread of Lethal Weapon (family-man cop partnered with a loose cannon), but otherwise the tone and style of each film is so varied. The original is satisfying ‘90s action/Three’s Company cheese. The 2003 sequel is the most mean-spirited action follow-up since Robocop 2 but with top-flight car chases & explosions. This latest is a 180 degree turn from Bad Boys II, with the sentimentality of a Fast & Furious movie (or Lethal Weapon 4) mixed with the new-class desperation vibes of The Expendables 3. I’ll say this: I give the people behind Bad Boys for Life credit for not only trying something different, but clearly caring about the movie they’re making. From the lead performances to the fan-service choices by the directors (Adil El Arbi & Billal Fallah), this entry feels borne out of affection instead of cynicism. It’s also the type of movie Bad Boys II would bully mercilessly on a playground.
I don’t want to get into the plot, since Bad Boys for Life has surprises and callbacks peppered throughout the movie that are sometimes wonderful. Plus, the third act plot developments should be enjoyed in real time by everyone. They’re so strange that Martin Lawrence spends the rest of the movie making fun of them and it’s terrific. Will Smith is the lead this time out, but Lawrence steals the movie. He’s rarely as likable as he is here -- cool because he’s uncool. I didn’t realize until I was watching the film how much I missed Martin Lawrence on screen. His silliness and good cheer are just what this movie (and franchise) needed after Bad Boys II. Will Smith’s performance is interesting. You can’t shake his ego and gravitas (some of it’s the character and some the performer -- they kind of blend together like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler at this point), but Smith has a sort of simmering resignation in Bad Boys for Life. He’s developed the sad eyes older action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme can get over time. It’s not peak Mike Lowrey (he was never cooler than in the original), but it’s interesting what time has done to this character. Years ago, I thought, at the end of Bad Boys II, Lowrey’s logical conclusion could only be to go the Alonzo Harris route and I give the screenwriters a lot of credit for finding an arc that’s just as interesting and completely unexpected. The joy of the third act of Bad Boys for Life isn’t the action bonanza, but rather how they’re going to try to pull themselves out of the ludicrous corner they backed themselves into.
With Lawrence and Smith both in their fifties now, it’s understandable the action scenes are a little more pedestrian than the spectacle of Bad Boys II. Still, it’s a setback in Bad Boys for Life that the action in the series scales back. The action set pieces are fine, just not as memorable as the foot chase or airplane hangar in the original or anything in the 2003 sequel. I’m also mixed on the addition of AMMO, a younger cop surveillance and tactical team that are brought in to help Lawrence and Smith’s characters. Again, it’s not bad, it just doesn’t land much of an impact aside from Paola Nunez, who plays the head of AMMO and Mike Lowrey’s former love interest. She’s got spark. I’d like to see her in more movies. The villains this time out are underwhelming, nothing as memorable as the turns provided in the previous films by bad guy character actor extraordinaires like Tcheky Karyo and Jordi Molla.
On a positive note, Joe Pantoliano makes a fun return as the police captain and the cinematography by Robrecht Hayvaert is stunning, especially in the nighttime Miami scenes. I also really enjoyed the reprise and muscling up of Mark Mancina’s original themes by new series composer Lorne Balfe. The first film had a memorable score, so it was a bummer when it was missing from Bad Boys II. Overall, Bad Boys for Life is a success and better than I expected it would be mostly based on the post-2008 track record of Will Smith. He did come back for this sequel and he didn’t for the calamities that were Independence Day: Resurgence and Men in Black: International, so perhaps that was indication Bad Boys for Life was a better project all along.


  1. I could not agree more with everything you said here, Adam. I enjoyed this WAY more than I expected to, and for all the reasons you outlined. I had the exact same thought about Martin Lawrence being a presence I'd really missed. He really made this movie.

    Also "ask the horse" might be my new mantra.

  2. I enjoyed Martin Lawrence way more than I thought I would. His presence reminds me what I hate about Kevin Hart's one-note acting so much.

    But I thought all the "family" stuff has been covered in the F&F franchise to death, so it felt pretty derivative here, especially when you consider the AMMO people, who are essentially an instant-single serving team of misfits.

  3. Martin Lawrence is TERRIFIC in his cameo in The Beach Bum (2019). Did no one see that movie?

    1. I did. He’s fun, but the movie’s so insufferable I kind of forgot he was in it.

    2. I loved that movie haha. #10 for me from last year

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