“Bad Boys for Life” Movie Review


     One viewing of co-directors Adil El Arbi’s and Bilall Fallah’s threequel “Bad Boys for Life” and you will immediately realize one thing.  The main reason for bringing back Will Smith and Martin Lawrence to reprise their characters some seventeen years later has more to do with the recent success of the “Fast and Furious” films than it does any thought audiences were asking for another helping of Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett.  You get the feeling someone within the Sony braintrust came to the realization that if the low level street criminals in “The Fast and the Furious” could become a high tech crew existing within the highest levels of international espionage, why not the smooth talking Miami cop duo as well?

     And here’s how they did it.  First, of course, the story must catch up the target audience who was still in diapers when the last film was out in theaters.  This means a standard plot involving revenge where the hardened criminals of their police past come looking for a little payback.  Next, the screenwriters (Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan) create a scenario where they are teamed up with newly created high tech unit made up of younger cops to play against their now ultra experienced and salty characters who will lean on their “old school” methods versus the advanced techniques of their counterparts.  The diverse group is led by Rita (Paola Nunez) and flanked by tech whiz Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), weapons expert Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens) and the team’s hot head Rafe (Charles Melton).  It’s all by the book franchise building, or in this case, rebirthing.

     Their off site base is a garage full of massive computer monitors and screens capable of finding and tracking virtually anyone in the world, as well as tech enhanced surveillance vehicles and heavy tactical rigs each armed with the latest weaponry.  In other words a place where Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto would feel right at home given the past four installments of that lucrative franchise.  Only in this case it is Mike and Marcus leading the way as they seek to find the man responsible for a string of assassinations that seem to be connected to one of their previous cases.

     Arbi and Fallah have obviously watched their fair share of recent action films and were likely impressed with what they saw in the “John Wick” trilogy, which has clearly inspired the settings, choreography, and tone of each of the film’s set pieces.  Early on, we meet the bad guy, Armando (Jacob Scipio), as he seeks to make a deal with a local drug cartel in Miami that goes south when he finds himself double crossed.  And that’s when Armando unleashes his inner “Wick” with a knife fighting display any hitman in that series would certainly envy.  All of these scenes are lit with shades of purple, yellow, and green, as the wet asphalt mirrors the cars, motorcycles, and people who speed through them during endless car chases, fight scenes, and gun battles.  You’ve seen these same stylistic approaches before and it doesn’t appear anyone involved in the film really cares since this is the first time the protagonists are Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett.

     Now all of this isn’t meant to depict any sort of realism, but these characters are played in a serious manner where the stakes are meant to be life and death,  something which surprises me given the way these two guys act as cops.  If Lowrey and Burnett are meant to be the heroes of the story, and the audience the film is primarily aiming for is African-American, than why would this audience cheer them on when they are exhibiting the exact same bad behavior, excessive use of force, and sociopathic tendencies that is obviously frowned upon when it concerns real life police officers?  The contradiction there is alarming. 

     Is it ok for two detectives to drive recklessly through the streets of Miami, even driving on a crowded beach at one point while yelling “Sorry rich white people, we’re cops!”, just to get to a hospital for a non emergency family matter?  Fact is, neither of these guys would last a week on the job in real life, never mind the twenty five years they now claim to have at the beginning of the film.  All this does is reenforce a narrative that is simply not true to an impressionable young generation who is already bombarded by false agendas and lies, while allowing them to laugh because Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are funny.

     The third act of “Bad Boys for Life”, as it continues to follow the “Fast and Furious” formula, devolves into a series of impossible and unrealistic action sequences meant to transition these characters into the globe trotting police unit I suspect they will become in the already green lit fourth installment.  All of it, of course, is absolutely preposterous (the post credit scene will no doubt leave one character who meets his demise rolling over in his grave), but if you’ve become invested in these characters over the course of three films, there is enjoyment to be had since the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence cannot be denied.  The cross town rivalry between studios has clearly created the strategy of seeing what has worked for the competition and simply injected your own IPs into the established formula.  There’s nothing overly astonishing about “Bad Boys for Life”, but just as the “Die Hard” template produced dozens of profitable knockoffs over the years, it appears the “Fast and Furious” franchise now boasts one of its own.  GRADE: C