Wednesday, June 5, 2024


 by Rob DiCristino

Whatcha gonna do?

Who’s going to save cinema? Will it be Marvel’s iron-plated superheroes? Pixar’s family-friendly fables? Will it be established auteurs or up-and-coming indies? Maybe it’ll be the streaming services and their ever-spinning carousels of new content curated just for you. Perhaps major studios should just keep throwing money at the problem; after all, one of these half-billion-dollar productions is bound to turn a profit eventually, right? What if — and this may sound radical — we turned our attention to producing a wide variety of mid-budget fare of reliable quality? A mix of genres, for example, that might cater to the tastes of an even wider variety of audience demographics? What if — and this is a shot in the dark with absolutely no historical precedent whatsoever — we hired competent craftspeople to tell crowd-pleasing stories that result in satisfying nights out at the movies? Maybe — and tell me if I’m a complete psychopath here — we occasionally just let charismatic stars like Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have fun in front of the camera?
Such is the premise of Bad Boys: Ride or Die, the follow-up to 2020’s surprise hit threequel Bad Boys for Life. We catch up with Marcus (Lawrence) and Mike (Smith) as the latter prepares to tie the knot with physical therapist Christine (Melanie Liburd). The lavish ceremony is a joyous one — including loving remembrances for the dearly departed Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) — until Marcus’ near-fatal heart attack forces our bad boys to confront the realities of middle age. Worse, a paramilitary unit headed by Banker (Eric Dane) is posthumously framing Captain Howard for corruption, planting evidence that pressures boss Rita (Paola Núñez) and her boyfriend Lockwood (Ioan Gruffudd), a councilman with mayoral aspirations, to draw Howard’s entire legacy into question. Determined to clear their late mentor’s name, Marcus and Mike team up with Miami’s special ops AMMO unit (Vanessa Hudgens and Alexander Ludwig) and Mike’s estranged, incarcerated son (Jacob Scipico, returning as Armando) and get to doing what bad boys do.

Though no modern blockbuster could possibly hope to match the irresponsible, mean-spirited madness of Michael Bay’s original Bad Boys pictures — mainstream movies simply aren’t made like that anymore, and Bad Boys for Life was probably wise in taking a more measured, sentimental approach — returning directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah clearly learned a great deal from their first big-budget success, injecting Ride or Die with a confident kineticism that feels less like insecure Fast & Furious cosplay and more like, well, Michael Bay maximalism (including a nod to Bad Boys II’s iconic arching hero shot). Nearly every frame has some kind of life to it, and one nauseating POV sequence aside, Adil & Bilall (as they’re collectively known) are clearly working hard to keep their stylish hullabaloo as coherent as possible. They also know that Smith and Lawrence are the real visual draws, with Lawrence in particular taking center stage for a variety of slow-motion action gags that make some great comedic hay out of his elastic — and unabashedly jowly — face,
Screenwriters Chris Bremner and Will Beall are keeping things tight and coherent, as well, dispensing with the plottier distractions that occasionally derailed Bad Boys for Life — all that AMMO business is streamlined, and appearances from guest stars Tiffany Haddish and DJ Khaled are mercifully short — and keeping Ride or Die’s focus squarely on its engaging, if formulaic, cat-and-mouse game. This isn’t to say that you won’t figure out the conspiracy long before our heroes do, but the film’s willingness to tell a simple, predictable story with an abundance of sincerity and enthusiasm goes a long way in separating it from the majority of modern Sony franchise fare, nearly all of which is crammed with nonsensical mystery-boxing and superfluous characters starring in glorified auditions for their own spin-offs. Very few things in Bad Boys: Ride or Die feel like studio notes, and its one CGI-laden set piece — a midair jailbreak from a military helicopter — is creatively staged and thematically rewarding. This may all sound like faint praise, but it’s 2024, people; we have to highlight these things when they work.
Speaking of which: Will Bad Boys: Ride or Die save cinema? Probably not, but it’s a step in the right direction for a mainstream cinematic ecosystem in desperate need of rebalancing in the post-Marvel era (era). Its $100 million budget may seem modest by modern standards, but isn’t that about equal to the level of audience interest any one film should be expected to generate? If it doesn’t work — though if Bad Boys for Life’s half-billion-dollar January return is any indication, it probably will — Sony can simply throw that money at three or four projects of equal cost next time and not have to worry about embarrassing themselves. It’s the difference between banking everything on a Fall Guy or Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and investing in a more diverse palette of options that will actually draw audiences back to the movies. It’s — say it with me now — how Hollywood used to work. It may be far too late, but Bad Boys: Ride or Die is a competent three-star movie. If the industry is going to survive, that has to start counting for something.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die hits theaters on Friday, June 7th.

1 comment:

  1. I do NOT think you are a complete psychopath! I saw the trailer for this and thought, "that looks fun and I'd like to see it" even though I don't think I've ever seen any of the previous Bad Boy films. It just looks like a MOVIE movie and I LIKE MOVIES. "A competent three-star movie" is its own kind of comfort food and I'm always down for that.