Movie Guru: ‘Bad Boys For Life’ is among the best of the franchise, but is that enough?
‘Bad Boys For Life’
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, sexual references, and brief drug use
Screenplay by: Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan
Story by: Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan
Characters by: George Gallo
Directed by: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Alexander Ludwig, Vanessa Hudgens, Joe Pantoliano, Paola Nuñez, Charles Melton, Kate del Castillo and more
Grade: Two and a half stars out of four
“Bad Boys for Life” is definitely the best “Bad Boys” movie ever made, but is that enough?
Listen, I like the “Bad Boys” movies as much as anyone else. I’m a huge action movie fan, and Martin Lawrence and Will Smith have a fantastic buddy-cop dynamic. Michael Bay’s only skill is blowing things up, but he is spectacular at that and sometimes, that’s all you need out of life.
But it’s been 17 years since the last one, and if I’m waiting that long for a movie, it better blow my socks off. And if it’s following the same characters I first met back in 1995? Then I’m going to need to see some growth. I’ve changed a lot since I last spent time with these characters, and if they haven’t done the same, I’m going to be pretty disappointed. More importantly, the movie needs to give audiences a reason to go back after all this time. This is supposedly a momentous cinematic event, and the movie needs to make me feel like it understands that.
Does “Bad Boys for Life” manage to do that? Sort of.
Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah understand things like emotions in a way Bay never could, and Lawrence has a surprisingly good understanding of what 17 years can do to a character. He’s also still funny, both with Smith and on his own. I’d forgotten that over the years, and I was more than happy to be reminded of that fact. There are also some solid action scenes, which are important in these sort of situations.
But is that enough?
The plot feels like it’s been held together with duct tape, escalating to the kind of absurd degrees I would expect out of “Fast and the Furious.” More importantly, Smith’s Mike Lowrey has somehow managed to avoid anything even remotely resembling personal growth or even self-awareness in the last 17 years. It’s more obvious than ever that his character is an irredeemable jerk, despite the last-minute burst of completely random character development the movie tried to throw at him.
Plots don’t really matter in movies like this, but in “Bad Boys for Life” the boys have hit a classic buddy-cop movie conundrum. Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett is ready to retire, in part because of a new grandson and in part because of a shooting that puts Lowrey in the hospital. His partner would rather die than retire, however, and starts running off half-cocked on a trail of vengeance that leaves a lot of wreckage (both physical and emotional) behind him.
As with every sequel like this, there are a whole bunch of new characters meant to modernize the old-timer leads and help the movie connect with a younger audience. I loved the whole crew here, especially Alexander Ludwig’s violence-shy techie and Charles Melton’s absolute sass-master. If someone would make a movie focusing on them, I would happily watch it. I’d even enjoy watching Lawrence wander around the background making jokes and trying to be helpful.
But with the obvious sequel hook they put in the credits, I would guess that talk about this being the last “Bad Boys” movie is a lie. And if we’re only going to get more of the same from Smith’s character, I’m certainly not looking forward to it.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.