Did anyone honestly see this coming?
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the sun-baked, flashy emptiness of the two Bad Boys movies for the crass, explosive action comedies that they are but let’s be honest… they’re hardly what you’d call art. Frequently dipping into humour that could be described as racist, misogynistic or flat out homophobic, the series could hardly be described as progressive but whereas the first installment could be considered a bombastic snapshot of the 90’s, part 2 frequently pushed every bad habit that director Michael Bay had to it’s limits – Christ, at the end of that one they invaded Cuba for fuck’s sake. Well… Bay has now vacated the director’s chair and what we’ve ended up with is a return to form every bit as seismic as Vin Diesel and Paul Walker dragging a massive vault through Rio in Fast 5. In short, we could be witnessing the start of something big….
Like virtually ever other action franchise that’s been going for years, Bad Boys For Life chooses to focus on the effect aging has on the machismo drenched action character – family man Marcus Burnett is now a grandfather and is seriously considering retirement whereas flashy Mike Lowery is still pushing himself hard claiming he’s still gonna be running bad guys down till he’s 100 and expects his partner to back him up all the way (although we find out that he dyes his goatee). Of course, this being Bad Boys movie means this causes friction between the two cops which surfaces in creative, foul mouthed banter, but when a violent and vengeful woman who has a past with Mike escapes from prison, she unleashes her unstoppable son after everyone who conspired to send her to jail with Mike slated to die last. Suffering an injury, forced to confront his mortality and unable to count of Marcus who wants nothing to do with his partner’s self destructive tendencies, Mike has no option but to join the new state of the art crime team AMMO; a young group with a snappy acronym and a ton of funky gadgets in order to bring down criminals. Mike, at odds with their non-fatal leanings (he’s frankly disgusted at even the concept of rubber bullets) is a thorn in their side but when the villain (who’s into witchcraft which shows that even though Bay has departed, lunatic plotting still perseveres) steps up her plan and Mike learns some bad shit about his past, bridges have to be rebuilt ironically while causing a fuck-ton of destruction. Can Mike, Marcus and AMMO bring an end to this psychotic wave of revenge while simultaneously making Lowery realise there’s more to life than thudding bullets into the chest of a knife wielding crack head?
Brand new directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah bring in a lively, action packed movie that’s two parts Bad Boys to one part Lethal Weapon and one part Fast And Furious that ends up, somewhat audaciously, being the best Bad Boys movie to date. Adopting Micheal Bay’s orange tinged, magic hour obsessed lighting to continue a visual continuity, the filmmakers come armed with a script that impressively turns almost every complaint critics had about the first two movies into actual plot devices that are addressed as actual honest to god character arcs.
While the new directors systematically turn virtually every negative the series has into a positive, the leads also find themselves liberated by the slightly altered politics of the story. Freed from the constrains of having to try to keep up physically with his notoriously energetic co-star, Martin Lawrence stretches his legs (literally and figuratively) as being the more overtly comedic of the two while somehow being the voice of reason. Frankly, he’s a hoot, hitting some major laughs among the action while Smith is preoccupied with all the running and the jumping and the pew, pew, pew. Whether fascinated with poking a huge welt on the head of a bad guy brought forth by the business end of a rubber bullet or careening through traffic in a detached machine gun mounted motorcycle sidecar Lawrence becomes almost the audience’s commentator on all the shrapnel flinging lunacy.
Will Smith, on the other hand, racks up the best action shit he’s done for years. Taken to task on his past philandering, violent ways for pretty much the entire running time it’s a rare inflective storyline for the franchise, and indeed the genre and Smith seems thankful for actually having something to sink his acting chops into that’s more that just screaming “MOVE” while his shirt billows open. In fact Mike Lowery’s plot threads here tread curiously close to that other Will Smith vs. aging action thriller: Gemini Man, but actually exceeds it in every way. Let that sink in for a minute: the third Bad Boys movie is a far better action movie about growing old gracefully that a film directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee… what a time to be alive.
Scattered throughout are various in-jokes for Bad Boys fans with a warm welcome back to Joe Pantoliano as their exasperated captain and a glorious callback to an infamous scene from the second movie involving a kid who was dating Burnett’s daughter and the while movie is just a big, brightvand vastly entertaining experience that actually attempts to have a conscience along with it’s satisfyingly bloody R rating. After all, how can you hate a movie where Martin Lawrence looks Will Smith dead in the eye and utters the legend: “How you fuck a witch without a condom!?”
One of the most suprising comebacks of recent years, there’s a sensation that this could be the launch pad for something big (the post credit stings seem to think so) and I’d be totally lying if I said it didn’t give me tingles of excitement.
After all, as the boys themselves say: we ride together, we die together, bad boys for life.
Count me in.