'Bad Boys for Life': Film Review

The third time really is the charm.
1/17/2020

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reprise their roles as a duo of Miami detectives for a third chapter in the series, this time sans Michael Bay.

The first thing you notice in Bad Boys for Life, the third entry in what can now accurately be called a series, is that Will Smith has not aged one iota since he appeared in the first installment 25 years ago. The second and rather more remarkable surprise is that this new installment directed by two virtually unknown Belgians, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, is decisively the best of the trio; it actually has a heart, or what passes for one in a gigantic, slam-bang industrial enterprise like this. Michael Bay is not missed. In all events, this quite gigantic crowd-pleaser looks to be the first big hit of the new year and decade. 

It’s been 17 years since Bad Boys II arrived in notably overstuffed, 147-minute condition, and there never seemed to be a huge groundswell of demand for, or particular expectation of, another chapter in this franchise centered on two Miami cops, no matter how successful the first two entries may have been. It’s also true that a substantial number of potential customers for this muscular, freshly decked-out feature were still in diapers, if that, when the massively successful first chapter initially appeared.

Martin Lawrence’s Detective Marcus Burnett becomes a grandfather in the film’s opening minutes, and his mind is made up to retire from the force and gradually head into the sunset. By contrast, Smith’s Detective Mike Lowry is still a player and can’t possibly imagine slowing down for any reason; he’s still in the game in every sense of the word. Their early banter about life’s changes or, for Mike, lack of same, establishes that the men’s relationship of old is still firing on all cylinders.

Still, neither of them has bargained for some mighty new firepower recently arrived from south of the border — and it’s personal. A new, savagely ruthless family criminal has just turned up from Mexico, one run by Isabel (Kate Del Castillo), who happens to have been an old flame of Mike’s, with her son Armando (Jacob Scipio). There are some old scores to be settled, and the latter is happy to oblige.

It’s impressive and enjoyable to behold how easily Smith and Lawrence slide back into these characters and actually make them more accessible and fun to be around than before. Mike gives Marcus plenty of crap about riding off into the sunset while maintaining that he’s “going to be running down criminals until I’m a hundred.” No sooner does he make that joke, however, than he’s gunned down, taking three bullets in the chest. He barely survives, but once he recovers a bit the two men join together again, along with a unit of cohorts, to track down a savage killer who seems especially ruthless.

At almost every stage in the script by newcomer Chris Bremner and veterans Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan, matters become more layered and complicated than they first appeared; older cops feel younger ones creeping up behind them, which simply adds to their anxiety, while the long arm of former intimacies ensnares them in maddeningly, even tragically vexing, dilemmas from which there can be no simple way out. 

But if all the main characters carry some heavy, even tragic burdens with them wherever they go, the writers also supply them with plenty of good times. Smith and Lawrence are as funny together as they ever were, the former giving the latter plenty of abuse about folding his tent so early until Marcus, in extremis, agrees to go into battle “one last time.”

The plotting could be criticized for one or two far-fetched storytelling coincidences and conveniences, but the thematic and emotional weight they bring to the proceedings validates their usefulness. The two directors roll with ease between raucous comedy and raw drama, to considerable effect, just as they crank up the tension on any number of occasions, occasionally with palpably visceral impact. The two clearly are in complete sync about where they want to go dramatically, how to get there and how to inject surprising amounts of humor into the rough stuff.

Smith and Lawrence are in top form, and Joe Pantoliano delivers some fine moments as a wise-guy police captain, as does Paola Nuñez as a former flame of Mike’s.

The heaviness and sense of needless excess in Bay’s approach have been replaced here by a more fleet-footed and alert style that’s all to the good. All the internal evidence here would suggest that this truly will be the final installment of this ridiculously successful short series. All the same, the door has been left open more than a crack for more.

Production companies: Columbia Pictures, 2.0 Entertainment, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Overbrook Entertainment
Distributor: Sony
Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Alexander Ludwig, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Nuñez, Kate Del Castillo, Nicky Jam, Joe Pantoliano, Theresa Randle, Bianca Bethune, Jacob Scipio
Directors: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah
Screenwriters: Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan; story by Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith, Doug Belgrad
Executive producers: Chad Oman, Mike Stenson, Barry Waldman, James Lassiter
Director of photography: Robrecht Heyraert
Production designer: Jon Billington
Costume designer: Danya Pink
Editors: Dan Lebental, Peter McNulty
Music: Lorne Balfe
Casting: Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham

Rated R, 123 minutes