Director: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah
Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Joe Pantoliano
Runtime: 2 hrs 4 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Sony Pictures
Opening Day: 23 January 2020
Synopsis: The Bad Boys Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are back together for one last ride in the highly anticipated Bad Boys for Life.
For those old enough to remember the first ‘Bad Boys’ movie back in 1995, you would also recall that it was a watershed moment for the blockbuster era then. Not only did it mark the feature directing debut of a young music-video whiz named Michael Bay (who would go on to direct a couple of ‘Transformers’ movies), the unexpected box-office hit starred two black actors in the leading roles. The inevitable sequel came out eight years later with Bay again at the helm, pushing its elements of cops, robbers and chemistry to decadent extremes. That same formula would probably fall flat today, which likely explains it took so long for this third instalment to get made.
In place of Bay, Belgian filmmaking duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have taken the reins of ‘Bad Boys for Life’. Yet fans of Bay’s style need not worry – right from the opening sequence of Will Smith’s Mike Lowrey and Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett in a screeching Porsche burning up the streets of Miami’s South Beach, both El Arbi and Fallah prove that they aim to match Bay’s bombast. Ditto the non-stop wisecracking between Mike and Marcus, which was what made the earlier two movies so infectiously entertaining. Oh yes, those who miss Smith and Lawrence riffing, raffing and rocking with each other will be delighted to know that neither has lost a beat to their perfect yin-yang chemistry since 17 years ago.
What is different this time round though is that it’s gotten a lot more personal. On one hand, Marcus has just become a grandfather and would like to retire; whereas, Mike just wants to keep doing what he’s always been doing, and feels betrayed that Marcus wants out. On another, Mike is targeted by an old nemesis Isabel (Kate del Castillo), and is shot multiple times in the open by her henchman Armando (Jacob Scipio). The setup makes it clear that she has unfinished business with Mike, and without giving too much away, let’s just say that it goes a whole lot deeper than just the fact that he was the one who had romanced her and then put her behind bars.
You’d be surprised at the amount of plot and character interest which the script (written by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan) packs into two hours. Besides trying to figure out who wants Mike’s life, the two detectives also have to contend with a new tech-based force called AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations) – comprising of Mike’s former flame Rita (Paola Nunez) and a trio of savvy millennials (Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton and Alexander Ludwig) – and the subsequent inter-generational tension makes for some lively back-and-forth. Unlike most such genre fare, there are real emotional stakes involved here, most notably around Marcus’ mortality and Mike’s associated spiritual crisis.
Co-directors El Arbi and Fallah demonstrate a firm grip over the plotting, pacing the action and quieter moments perfectly such that there is never a dull moment throughout. Though the key set-pieces only kick off in earnest in the second half, there is plenty of firepower and horsepower to satisfy action junkies – including a jaw-dropping night sequence featuring a motorcycle and sidecar, helicopter and rocket launcher, and an explosive finale in an old Mexican palace with a fierce firefight, crashing chopper and mano-a-mano brute-force fisticuffs. Like the last two ‘Bad Boys’, there is a deliberate emphasis on practical stunts, sets and effects, and that realism makes the visual spectacle all the more awesome to behold.
But if there are two reasons to watch ‘Bad Boys for Life’, they are undoubtedly Smith and Lawrence. Reprising the role which catapulted him to superstardom, the 51-year old actor looks none the older whether in combat or comedy, demonstrating not just perfect physical but also impeccable comic timing. He does play Marcus with a slightly harder edge than before though, but it makes the proceedings feel even more intense. Lawrence, on the other hand, is more than happy to play second banana to Smith, but the visibly more portly actor brings his own weight to the film by injecting some much-needed gravitas, especially as his character contemplates about how far his life has come with Marcus.
As convenient as it may be to dismiss their long-awaited reunion as a cash grab, ‘Bad Boys for Life’ proves to be a giddily delightful get-together that loses none of the brash energy of the earlier two films. Both our leading duo and their filmmaking duo have fashioned a buddy-cop movie intended as an unabashed tribute to pure ‘90s action cinema, but is also infused with genuine human feeling to make it a lot more poignant. If this is what it means to ride along with these boys for life, we’re more than happy to join Smith and Lawrence for yet another high-octane outing, which we hope from experience will come sooner than later.
(As hilarious, thrilling and delightful as the first 'Bad Boys' was, this long-awaited sequel sees Will Smith and Martin Lawrence lose none of their brilliant chemistry, while adding some unexpected poignancy with age)
Review by Gabriel Chong