Movies have always been a part of my life, as my mother and grandmother were collectors of sorts. I had a decent VHS collection, and those tapes got replayed regularly. Bad Boys (1995) was among them – largely because it combined two sitcom stars that I loved with added chaotic action (which would later become the trademark of director Michael Bay)…and it was all set in Florida. I was less hyped about Bad Boys II (2003), though I was in the theater opening weekend – so I was very unclear how this third installment, Bad Boys for Life (2020) would go. I’ll just say that the Bad Boys are back, baby!
Detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) is ready to retire from Miami P.D. after twenty-five years of service. His partner, Detective Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) is hurt and surprised by his partner’s willingness to break-up the duo. Mike seeks to bring Marcus back after it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill him, and needs his partner to watch his back.
The biggest thing that makes this movie work is the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence. It was definitely a big factor for all three films, but here it was great seeing them together. Smith has had a series of less than stellar films – even if he was bringing his A-game. It has been even longer of a drought for Lawrence – so, when this film was even announced, it sounded like grasping for that “one last chance” at a hit type of movie. However, this is great, because filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah definitely seemed to be aware of that perception, and I feel they built it into the story a bit. It should be noted that the chemistry of the partner detectives would not be complete without their nervously angry captain played by Joey “Pants” Pantoliano, who also returns. Ultimately, this movie had me pretty much from the opening car chase.
To make a sequel great, you’ve got to up the stakes a bit. Bad Boys II tried – and in my opinion, it ultimately failed to do it in a way that meant anything significant…and then it jumped the shark in the third act. Bad Boys for Life, on the other hand, introduced new characters that were interesting, put an action movie trope in its crosshairs, and actually had quite decent storytelling that I think will reward attentive audience members and multiple viewings. The best thing about this movie was feeling emotionally invested in these characters, and the movie not ignoring that fact. These aren’t action figures being moved from one set piece to another with no stakes attached to them. There is a lot for Marcus and Mike to lose, and because the filmmakers take the time to ensure we care about that, the movie connects in a bigger way than it did in Bad Boys II.
As per usual, I avoid talking about spoilers in my reviews, especially because I tend to write them soon after the film is released. In this case, it is hard to talk about what I love in this movie (outside of the characters) because the plot is full of little twists – some for comedic reasons, and others for dramatic ones. While I enjoyed the new characters and their team called “AMMO” (played by Paola Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton), plus the somewhat comic-book-inspired villains, the film still had some weak spots. Most of the jokes landed, but there were a few that were cheesy or predictable. There was definitely an homage to Michael Bay with some of the cinematic choices, and I don’t always love the chaotic action sequences that follow. Still, I was pleasantly surprised with Bad Boys for Life, with it earning the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.