Bad Boys For Life | Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah | January 17, 2020

It’s safe to say that a lot has changed in the nearly two decades since Michael Bay’s Bad Boys 2 graced the screen. With such a long gap between films, the always worrisome January release date and a lackluster trailer, it’s safe to say many were doubting the potential of Bad Boys For Life to justify the existence of the third entry in this series that started 25 years ago.

I went into the film skeptical about the need for a new entry, but under the leadership of directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Bad Boys For Life is not only a worthy sequel but one could make a case that it’s just as good as the original, if not better. Only time will tell.

Bad Boys For Life works thanks to the genuine chemistry shared between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as Detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett. If the actors were to just go through the motions for a paycheck, you’d have a stiff film that not even the most talented hungry young director could salvage. But Smith and Lawrence completely buy into the script written by the trio of Joe Carnahan, Peter Craig, and Chris Bremner, and it pays off handsomely.

Taking place in present-day Miami, the duo celebrates the wedding of Marcus’ daughter Megan (Bianca Bethune) when Marcus confesses to Mike that he wants to retire from the job and spend time with his family. Mike naturally objects knowing that he doesn’t have any family waiting for him at home, something he is constantly reminded of when encountering Rita (Paola Nuñez), an ex-flame who is also a co-worker.

Mike wants to hold on while Marcus wants to let go. But with a new threat on the horizon, both of them are tested in ways they don’t expect. South of the border, Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo) is set free from prison by her son Armando (Jacob Scipio) and they have revenge on their mind for those who put them there, which includes our friend Mike Lowrey. It doesn’t take much to guess that Marcus’ retirement is short-lived.

The plot is kept nice and simple, allowing the friendship between these two characters to anchor the film. Sure, there is plenty of silly humor and the violent action that you have come to expect from the series (some of it works better than others). Yet there is a surprising amount of tender and a heartfelt nature seen through the exploration of their friendship and what it means to be an aging cop trying to hang on to the past. Arbi and Fallah are able to balance the two different aspects of the screenplay quite well, something that I don’t know that Michael Bay would’ve been able to harness in the same manner at this stage of his career.

Both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence offer some of their best work in a while, working genuinely well alongside one another in a way that feels lived in, both on and off-screen. Equally fun is the integration of a new cast of fellow officers of a new unit called AMMO, who are young and tech-savvy, everything that the two leads are not. They are played earnestly by Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton. It’s also great to see Joe Pantoliano back as the not so cool-headed Captain Howard. Meanwhile, Castillo and Scipio come a bit too close to being one-note villains, but there are some later developments that help raise the stakes.

Maybe it was going in with low expectations but Bad Boys For Life is the first pleasant surprise of 2020 and one that signals that this franchise may have more gas in the tank than anyone expected. It’s a film that does look in the past but also re-examines what it means for a movie like this to exist in 2020 and adjusts itself accordingly.

If future entries can be as much fun as this, we are plenty willing to “ride or die” with them.

Rating: 7.0/10

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