Bad Boys for Life, 2020.
Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah.
Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Joe Pantoliano, Charles Melton, Paola Nuñez, DJ Khaled, Jay Dubb, Kate del Castillo, Theresa Randle, Happy Anderson, Jennifer Badger, Melissa Kennemore, Bianca Bethune, Massi Furlan, Nicky Jam, Ivo Nandi, and Michael Bay.
The Bad Boys Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett are back together for one last ride in the highly anticipated Bad Boys for Life.
For a brief minute, Bad Boys for Life had the potential and even seemed interested in commenting on both reckless police behavior and the mortality of the ever so charismatic Will Smith. Not even 20 minutes into this third entry of the series (note that it’s not directed by Michael Bay, but a pair of up-and-coming gangster style filmmakers known as Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah trying to make sense of a preposterous script from Joe Carnahan and others) Detective Mike Lowery (Will Smith) is gunned down while having a friendly competitive foot race with his partner and best friend, newly crowned grandfather Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence).
The story could have gone in any number of interesting directions from there, and as mentioned, it actually teases doing so. Marcus decides to quit the force entirely and find God as he devotes more time to his wife Theresa and grandchild, whereas six months later Mike is fully healed and ready to get back into the game making more noise than ever seeking revenge on his would-be assassin. Clearly, one of these individuals does not understand his limitations for participating in and surviving mayhem, and the consequences of bringing such violence into the world. The fact that this is coming from the screenwriter of the Death Wish remake of all things also shows a writer that may have been willing to listen to criticism regarding the negativity surrounding the projects he is helping put out into cinemas.
Nope. Bad Boys for Life is fine taking Mike down like a peg for his lone-wolf behavior, but when it comes to critiquing his gung-ho methods the movie is content cracking jokes at Marcus while showing that Will Smith, even in his 50s, can still pull off impressive feats of action. Taken off the case by returning Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), Mike weasels his way into conducting investigative research alongside a side division dubbed AMMO, mostly consisting of young and physically fit crimefighters that rely more on technology and smarts than the knack for fisticuffs they possess. Within minutes of meeting them, Mike is tossing out insults about fucking their mothers and refusing to play nice. Yes, the narrative eventually forces them to get along and play off the strengths of one another, but what’s concerning is that Joe Carnahan (alongside screenwriters Chris Bremner and Peter Craig) believes violence is the answer.
If that wasn’t enough, the stylish directing duo (they seem to have also made a music video for Wiz Khalifa, which would explain a lot in terms of presentation) also go out of their way to insert random spurts of grotesque gore, whether it be a shard of glass falling down and slicing someone’s throat or unnecessary impalement when a simple gunshot would suffice and get the point of the story beat across just as much. Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah don’t really have an eye for action in general, often attempting unbroken wide shots of characters walking in straight lines punching and shooting people. It barely registers as a rush of adrenaline, but that doesn’t even matter considering the action sequences rarely kick into a higher gear of excitement.
Admittedly, I was never expecting Bad Boys for Life to play down the fun of explosions and bloodshed. After all, this is an extension of a series from Michael Bay, who does have a cameo. Instead, what’s offensive is that for even a few short minutes, the film actually pretends to give a shit about the messages a series promoting laying waste to everything in one’s path in the name of justice is delivering. At one point, a random character in need of saving dies because rather than rolling around driving like madmen in some luxurious sports vehicle, the detectives have to drop Marcus’s grandson offered his wife which eats time. When Marcus wants to deal with speaking to an accountant civilly, the man turns out to be out of his mind on cocaine with, you guessed it, a physical altercation serving as the only solution.
At a certain point, Bad Boys for Life drops the social commentary façade. Does it morph into something better focusing strictly on the action? Hell no. Without saying much about the villains, they are as thinly sketched and generic as it comes for the first two-thirds of the running time because the story has a surprise or two in store. And not to spoil anything, but it’s more confirmation that Will Smith has an uncontrollable ego regarding his portrayal as an action hero. Even in a movie questioning the legacy of his character and morals, the story doesn’t just go out of its way to prove him right, it goes one step farther. The writers actually seem self-aware of how stupid this gets, feeding Marcus hilarious lines about the situation; it’s almost as if character and audience begin laughing in tandem at the story being presented.
The flipside of that is that the climax of Bad Boys for Life takes place up against a witch located in Mexico, which is so insane that I feel the need to assure you I did not watch two movies at once and combine my reviews. It takes the plot becoming an absolute cartoon to make the action sequences finally stand out as slightly entertaining. The last 30 minutes are so far out there, I suppose if you want to think about it more than necessary there might be supernatural elements at play. Then again, who wants to do that? Life is too short for this atrocious, braindead series.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com