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Ride together, die together - ‘Bad Boys for Life’ surprisingly good

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Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come … back … for you?

That’s the question some might have been asking themselves upon hearing that there would be a third installment in the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence buddy cop action comedy “Bad Boys” series. With 17 years having elapsed since the last entry, would this latest offering work? Would the high-octane rapid-fire profane chemistry of the two leads hold up? What about the new directing team of Adil and Bilall? Would they be able to fill the explosion-and-bikini-filled shoes of action auteur Michael Bay?

Do we need another “Bad Boys” movie?

Ultimately, the answer is “no” – and that’s OK. We don’t need another “Fast & Furious” movie. We don’t need another Marvel/DC movie. We don’t need another cartoon musical. But they’re still fun, and that’s what “BBFL” is. It’s fun. A lot more fun than it has any right to be, in fact.

This film is a throwback to a different era of action movie, one anchored and elevated by the still-strong comedic dynamic between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It somehow manages to simultaneously acknowledge and ignore the passage of time, a look at two guys coming to terms with the realities of aging while ALSO still clearly being far and away the coolest dudes in the room. It’s ridiculous and sublime and unexpectedly honest, close to the best-case scenario for a story that’s been gathering dust for nearly two decades.

Miami PD detectives Mike Lowery (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are still at it after a quarter-century on the force. However, their time together is coming to an end – while Mike is still walking the same walk and talking the same talk that he has been for over two decades, Marcus is coming to terms with the passage of time, considering retirement to spend time with his family – especially his first grandchild.

Unfortunately, the past has them square in the crosshairs. Isabel Aretas (Kate Del Castillo, “El Chicano”) is the widow of a deceased cartel leader; through her ruthless and heavily-trained son Armando (Jacob Scipio, “We Die Young”), she wants to exact revenge on everyone involved in her husband’s case – including (and especially) Detective Mike Lowrey.

Despite the misgivings of Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano, “From the Vine”), Mike and Marcus eventually find their way into the ongoing investigation, being led by the new-school tech-driven Advanced Miami Metro Operations (AMMO) unit. Under the command of the capable Rita (Paola Nunez, TV’s “The Purge”) – who also happens to be Mike’s ex – the crew consists of sharp but inexperienced young cops like Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens, “The Knight Before Christmas”), Dorn (Alexander Ludwig, “Midway”) and Rafe (Charles Melton, TV’s “Riverdale”).

But Armando proves to be a formidable foe, with a massive organization and resources behind him. To take him down and unravel the mystery of why this is all happening in the first place, Mike and Marcus must not only find a way to mesh their old-school sensibilities with the 21st century attitudes of AMMO, they must set aside their own differences and find ways to acknowledge that it isn’t just the times that have changed, but they themselves.

The reason that “Bad Boys for Life” is as successful as it is – and it is successful – is its simple refusal to try and reinvent the wheel. The “Bad Boys” formula works, so why screw with it? Explosions and gunfights and car chases, all blended together with quippy banter from Smith and Lawrence. That’s it – the details don’t really matter.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Adil and Bilall are operating at the same galaxy-brain level of magnificent lowbrow excess that Michael Bay brings to the table, because no one can match that Big Bay Energy (though it’s worth noting that Bay does have a cameo appearance in the film, a nod to the passing of the trash torch). Still, they do right by it all – they clearly have an “if it ain’t broke” attitude about things, which is the exact right attitude to have.

“BBFL” is big and broad in the ways you want this sort of film to be big and broad – everything is stylized and over-the-top. The action sequences are well-made; everything is lush and loud. If you ever wondered what it would be like to see an explosion explode, then this is the movie for you. So long as you don’t get hung up on little things like realism or the laws of physics, you’ll be all set. Just buckle in and enjoy the ride.

But what really elevates this film is the work being done by Smith and Lawrence. Watching them interact, the dynamic chemistry between them, you’d be hard-pressed to think 17 years had passed since they played these parts. The needling, the teasing, the sarcasm – it’s all on point. There’s genuine affection here, and it plays. The back-and-forth is great fun, but the surprising part is that there’s a little emotional heft here as well as these two men – and these two actors – deal with the passage of time.

The supporting cast is solid as well. Pantoliano is exceptional as always, capturing the spirit of the archetype of the frustrated and put-upon superior. Scipio and especially Del Castillo give us some good bad guy business. Nunez does a lot with a little. And the AMMO crew does some strong work too – Hudgens, Ludwig and Melton all find moments to shine and acquit themselves well.

“Bad Boys for Life” might not be a great movie in the grander sense, but it is a great example of the kind of movie it seeks to be. That’s not nothing, particularly for a franchise that has been dormant for almost 20 years. It is fun and absurd in all the right action movie ways, an enjoyable throwback.

All in all, these Bad Boys are pretty good.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 January 2020 09:21

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