Courtesy of Sony
The third time really is the charm.
Producing reboots or sequels almost two decades after its predecessor is risky business. As of late, “Dumb and Dumber To,” “Zoolander 2” and, to some extent, “Terminator: Dark Fate” didn’t move the needle in that respect. But in the explosive, surprisingly poignant threequel “Bad Boys for Life” – it means reinvigorating two beloved stars, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and reminding us why we enjoyed these characters in the first place. In this case, it gets it right and doesn’t feel like a shameless cash grab.
“Bad Boys for Life” – helmed by a two virtually unknown Belgians - Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah – is arguably the best in the series. It has a heart or at least passes for one wrapped in a giant bullet spewing action package. The original director, Michael Bay, deserves credit for capitulating Smith and Lawrence into box office stardom, but he’s signature style of shooting guns first and asking questions later is not missed.
It’s been 17 years since “Bad Boys II” hit the screens, and was anyone clamoring for a third “Bad Boys?” The sequel didn’t aid in any huge groundswell as the overstuffed 147-minute film was hardly memorable. What really works for “Bad Boys for Life” that “Bad Boys II” did not have is the passage of time and the evolution of these two Miami cops. Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett becomes a grandfather in the film’s opening scene, and his mind is set on retirement. His ride or die partner Mike Lowry (Smith) is still a hip and cool player in the game of seducing babes and hunting bad guys. Their early conversations offer a deep insight into their relationship and picks up as though we’ve never left them and reestablishes just how in sync the pairs chemistry really is.
Still, it doesn’t prepare them for a savage new advisory who comes from south of the border with a personal vendetta against Lowry. Enter a new strain of the cartel headed by Armando (Jacob Scipio) who along with his mom Isabel (Kate Del Castillo) – an old flame of Mike’s – are set to get even and make those who wronged them suffer.
Watching Smith and Lawrence seamlessly step back into these roles is an impressive feat. Mike gives Marcus plenty of flack about hanging up his badge and living a quiet life with his family while still arguing he’ll be hunting baddies until the day he dies. That becomes more resonant when Mike is gunned down and takes three bullets to the chest and barley survives. Once he recovers, the two join forces with a tactical unit named Ammo – much to the dismay of Captain Howard (a welcome return from Joe Pantoliano) - to track down the culprit and bring him to justice.
At nearly every corner, writers Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan, add more depth and background to these characters. There’s the dilemma of getting older and the young bloods creeping up behind Mike and Marcus. And of course, the whole concept of Mike settling down with his former fling – a sexy and fierce Rita (Paola Nunez) – is in constant focus. That doesn’t negate the standard action movie conveniences and troupes associated with these pictures. One big twist comes late in the second act and you almost roll your eyes because it’s so preposterous. But the way it’s handled and relayed convinced me otherwise, and that’s a testament to both Smith and Lawrence who seem to be firing on all cylinders. Smith has a juicy and stirring monologue begging Marcus to ride with him one last time and it’s easily the best movie moment Smith has executed in years (sorry “Aladdin”).
In other words, Smith and Lawrence are in top form and the heaviness and emotional weight presented seem to indicate this could be the end of the line for the series, except the door has been left open for future installments. But if the next iteration can elicit this type of energy, pacing, and bring back the gang in a manner that makes sense, then sign me up.