Review By: Jonathan W. Hickman
Another creaky, aging franchise is reborn as a frantic actioner aimed at the “Fast & Furious” crowd. The jokes fall flat, and the endearing cop duo at the film’s center retains little of the chemistry they shared in the ‘90s.
The “Bad Boys” idea never evoked weighty pathos. The first film, released back in 1995, took advantage of a high-concept combination of Will Smith’s movie star charisma and Martin Lawrence’s everyman comic persona. Now, 25 years later, the timing is off.
In one scene, detective Mike Lowrey (Smith) has a breakdown in front of his partner Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). And Smith is bringing it—red eyes, flowing tears, loose nose, shaky speech. He’s well into the emotions of the scene. When the camera cuts to Lawrence, he gives a blank expression, conveying nothing. After a beat, there’s a sarcastic, comedic retort. It’s meant to make us laugh, but instead, because the two actors are on such different levels, I was jerked right out of the film.
The inconsistent tone is repeated over and over, with diminishing effectiveness. And, while I have a soft spot for Martin Lawrence, faithfully watching every episode of his sitcom “Martin” back in the 1990s, he’s not able to match Smith’s intensity. It’s a thankless job.
What’s worse is the “Bad Boys for Life” slapdash script puts the two actors in completely different movies. The disjointed, perfunctory revenge narrative that is, also, like two entirely separate movies. The plot involves a drug cartel run by the ruthless Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), who breaks out of a Mexican prison and decides to kill everyone responsible for putting her there. Naturally, one of our bad boys is the target of her anger. She dispatches her son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to do the dirty work, and the skilled killer goes on a murderous rampage.
Given the Michael Bay (see “Transformers”) origins of this franchise, co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have to obey specific outlandish rules of engagement. So, a simple gunshot can cause a car to immediately erupt into a fiery explosion as though rigged with a bomb. Violent and brutal fist-fights leave our hero with little permanent damage. And the police are like international spies with unlimited power and resources.
As a means of modernizing the aging storyline, the boys are forced to work with a new youthful team of officers. Known as AMMO, this force consists of four muscled-up and shapely gun-totting specialists, who make maximum use of the latest technology. They use a drone, flown by a beefy geek (Alexander Ludwig), for surveillance, and later, they use one outfitted with a machine gun.
These young guns drive around the streets of Miami (mostly Atlanta doubling for the town) in a souped-up delivery truck that acts as a mobile fortress. Weirdly, we’re cheated out of a scene involving a large armored vehicle that they house in their base on operations. Save that tease for the next outing.
The AMMO crew is merely a plot device to bring in high-tech toys and younger faces (including a heavily armed Vanessa Hudgens). Spoiled in the trailers, we get a series of snarky interactions with the “boys.” The leader of the group is a sharp officer named Rita (Paola Nūnez). She acts as a love interest for perennial bachelor Mike Lowrey.
But what is abundantly clear is how desperate the entire production is to replicate the success of the “Fast & Furious” franchise. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this one feels so derivative that it’s unintentionally comical at times. And all the moving parts detract from the vital ingredient that originally made “Bad Boys” work in the first place: the relationship between the two leads.
If “Bad Boys for Life” works at all, it’s when Lowrey and Burnett trade jibes with one another. But these scenes are out-of-place as if imported from another time. Unlike its predecessor, this film is less interested in the characters and more concerned with bullets, drones, explosions, and bloody fistfights, all summed up with a cheesy one-liner. The joking is endless even as city streets clog with bodies, and collateral damage is rampant.
Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert (see 2017’s “Revenge”) shoots the action sequences with a collection of frenzied, wobbly closeups that are meant to be disorienting but become monotonous and frustrating. Without engaging characters that evolve meaningfully, all that’s left here is noise. And this is a really noisy picture.
Of course, no one, except producer Michael Bay (the much-maligned director of the first two films), was seriously chomping-at-the-bit for another “Bad Boys” adventure. Even the second movie was less than inspired. And despite the best efforts of its high-energy directors to inject hip style into the tired material, the marketplace dictates that to please producers, they have to make a particular type of film. And that type of film has been done better recently (see “Hobbs & Shaw”).
Ultimately, as “Bad Boys for Life” draws to a close, there’s a hint that there could be more in the offing. Another pale “Fast & Furious” clone awaits. Instead of having more story to tell, we’ll only see another “Boys” if this one is a box office smash. As always, the money leads, and here it’s taking us in a familiar, pedestrian direction.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com