Film Review: Bad Boys for Life

Lowrey and Burnett back in action.

Viewers of a certain age (including yours truly) were excited to learn last year that a new installment of the popular Bad Boys franchise was due to hit cinemas this January. The first movie was the big-screen debut from a then little-known 30-year-old music video director called Michael Bay that marked comedy actors Martin Lawrence’s and Will Smith’s entries into the action movie world. The second was a Bush-era anti-Fidel Castro polemic that became increasingly violent, darkly humorous, and politically suspect as it went on. 16 years after the second movie and nearly 25 after the first, Lawrence and Smith are back as Detective Lieutenant Marcus Burnett and Detective Lieutenant Mike Lowrey respectively, with Bay no longer at the helm and thirtysomethings Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah directing in his place.

This installment finds family man Burnett retiring from the Miami Dade PD to devote himself to full-time grandfatherhood, much to the chagrin of his wealthy bachelor playboy partner Lowrey. However, Burnett’s plans for a quieter life are thrown into disarray when an assassin starts killing Miami law enforcement officials in revenge for an old case involving his family. The film is somewhat bizarre. Smith, Paola Núñez as his ex-girlfriend and fellow police lieutenant Rita, and Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton as the squad of tech-savvy young cops Rita leads all look like they’ve turned up (and trained) for a stunt-heavy action epic in the vein of the second movie. Lawrence and Joe Pantoliano as the irascible Captain Howard both look and act like they’ve turned up to do one of the family comedies that were Lawrence’s metier in the late 00s/early 10s before his film career stuttered to a halt.

The incongruity between the physical (and often bloody) action involving Smith and the slapstick character comedy involving Lawrence is frequently jarring but always entertaining. The script still riffs on the contrast between Burnett’s ‘softly, softly’ approach and the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ stance espoused by Lowrey, but both characters are developed and explored further than they were in Bad Boys II. The film borrows the trope from the most recent installments in the Expendables and Shaft franchises of pairing heavy-handed, strong and silent Baby Boomer/Gen X heroes with more thoughtful, sensitive, tech-oriented, ‘less muss, less fuss’ millennial counterparts. It doesn’t do anything particularly original with it, but nevertheless generates several funny moments from it. Pantoliano is still great value as the boys’ hilariously stressed line manager Captain Howard. Fans of either or both of the first two films will find this one delivers the rapid-fire action and gags they’ve enjoyed previously in spades. Bad Boys for Life is in cinemas now.

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