The new “Bad Boys,” the third in this series, surprisingly has stakes. In fact there’s familiar fun and the raw and rough around the edges style of the original film as opposed to its overpolished sequel. As you’re watching, it’s as satisfying as a cup of water handed to you in the midst of a marathon, except imagine that while you’re drinking you run straight off a cliff.
Both character’s arcs in the new film poke fun at the “Taken” myth of the 50-year-old cops in their prime facing off against a new generation of crooks. These guys have lost a step, put on some pounds and tactically dyed their greys so that they closer resemble their formerly more spry younger selves.
Will Smith’s Mike is still clutching to that eternally single, ‘bulletproof’, Mike Lowery persona, despite how obvious that wealth and braggadocios accounts of bedding women appear to leave him empty. From his jaw-dropping roof-top apartment Lowery looks down on a city that he’s convinced needs him in perpetuity. Nothing, however, fills him with more existential dread or underscores his isolation. Smith is as fond of Mike as the audience is and it’s nice to see how much of his performance is caring about Mike’s ‘manhood’.
Martin Lawrence, in the original “Bad Boys,” shares the rarified air of Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop”. He’s never been funnier, never looked better and genuinely crushed comedic timing and action beats alike. In “Bad Boys 2, the whole film feels like it’s written around Lawrence’s genuine dissatisfaction with having to be there. Lawrence’s return to Burnett for “Bad Boys For Life” is… odd. He’s a little older, a little cuddlier and the Def Comedy Jam legend’s comedic edge remains sharp, but his old motor has a speed limit and his entire performance feels like it’s coming out of a different time zone.
The pulse of “Bad Boys For Life” is derived mainly from Marcus and Mike’s old married couple bickering that has a habit of disrupting life-threatening situations. In the middle of watching a suspect leap from an insane height, Burnett will pause to appraise his athleticism. When a case leads them to upset Marcus’ wife Theresa (the still stunning Theresa Randle), his first thought is her wrath rather than a suspect’s fear of mortal danger.
Joe Pantoliano’s Captain Howard is still blowing his top (and stealing scenes), but he’s now dealing with the heartburn that comes from a lifetime of skyrocketing stress levels often triggered by Burnett & Lowery. Pantoliano has the scene of the movie; taking a moment from heckling his daughter’s basketball game, to share a genuine moment of spiritual insight with Lowery. The love he has for these guys has never been clearer than in this moment. A new squad in Miami Dade Police Department, “AMMO” is a next-gen Mickey Mouse Club team of millennials crime fighters led by Mike’s former squeeze Rita (Paola Nuñez). Alexander Ludwig steals every scene as Dorn, a man mountain whose shell shock relegates him behind a desk until the inevitable juggernaut is unleashed. It’s a dry and impeccably timed performance from Ludwig.
Kate del Castillo plays Isabel Aretas; the cartel matriarch is introduced to us flauting shiv play that would make Eric Bana’s Chopper tip his hat. Isabel smoulders and creeps ain equal measure – muttering prayers to influence the untimely demise of their enemies. Jacob Scipio plays Armando Armas, a kid whose tiger mum has groomed him into a ruthless Bourne-level Treadstone operative, that has a skill for butchery. Scipio’s physical action performance succeeds not only in making Mike, Marcus and co. feel outmatched, it makes you speculate if even Mike in his prime could have ever taken him on.
Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are like a 1995-era Lowery and Burnett behind the lens, bursting with enthusiasm to emulate Bay and his influencers like Tony Scott, Paul Verhoeven and Abel Ferrara. The action beats pack a wallop, Miami’s nuclear orange magic filter is seemingly 24/7. A preference here for in camera, practical effects and explosions are in keeping with Bay’s example. They do everything they can before exploring CGI.
In their adoration for Bay and co., they temper Bay’s aggressive and often juvenile sexualisation – “Bad Boys 2” features as many up-skirt suggestive snatch shots as it does violations of international law. Adil and Bilall’s show Rita (Nunez) in a terrific golden dress as tight as a second skin, but she’s an attractive age-appropriate woman that is a character and has lines – as opposed to a split second pelvic thrust to a techno beat by a woman in venue-inappropriate sheer panties.
Screenwriters Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan (who at one time was signed on as writer-director), continue the strange spiritual edge of “Bad Boys 2”. Everyone remembers the ‘woo sahh’ mantra chants that Burnett and Captain Howard used to de-escalate heightened frustration. “Bad Boys For Life” tries a different approach with Burnett finding God while Lowery faces his mortality, and both begin a pursuit for a righteous and non-violent life – yet oddly seem reluctant to stick with the obvious solution of early retirement. This initially appealing meta-commentary is empty when you consider the climatic micro incursions into other countries where the only consequences involve a poolside barbecue as a reprimand.
“Bad Boys” is a movie I’ve seen countless times. Thanks to my older cousin’s (possibly wrong) decision to stand in as the adult supervision for my ten-year-old self, I saw it in the theatre multiple times. Director Michael Bay was working on cinematic dialogue. Dutch angles, burnt lenses, sex appeal and chemistry that sparks; it’s one of the most delightfully re-watchable action movies of all time.
“Bad Boys 2” on the other hand is a film that I’ve attempted to watch through at least 20 times, and failed. As a fan of “Hot Fuzz,” that film’s exalting of the ‘Boys’ sequel was a niggling barb. Until yesterday I had watched the film up until the final act 19/20 times. Finally, I overcame the narcolepsy inducing series of international law violations and technical acts of war in the middle of the film to get to the end. The finale takes the already wildly over the top Bayhem into the realms of fantasy or insanity, possibly both.
I think people forget that the climactic ending of “Bad Boys, the iconic plane hanger and runway action sequence, elevates the begrudging and hilarious voice of reason Marcus (Lawrence) to epic heroic status. Mike’s (Smith) taken a hit, the villain, is racing away and in the driver’s seat of that Porsche firing himself to take out the villain before he reaches his getaway. The hero is Burnett; he’s the pay off after playing foil to Lowery’s verbose, death wish.
“Bad Boys For Life,” has all that foil, and none of that incredible pay-off. Just mind-boggling, video game, boss level endings with metaphors that kick your teeth out. Incidentally, the previous two films had banging soundtracks but I can’t remember a single tune in this. I can remember an awful DJ Khalid cameo, so there we are.
In short “Bad Boys” is incredible. “Bad Boys 2” is insane. “Bad Boys For Life” is an almost instantly forgettable franchise bookend, or is it? Maybe it’s time we start reading the title with the upward inflection of Ron Burgundy.