FILM REVIEW – BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. With Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Jacob Scipio, Vanessa Hudgens. Written by Chris Bremner and Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan. Directed by Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, sexual references, and brief drug use. 123 minutes.
Was there really this huge demand for another “Bad Boys” movie? Consider that a 25-year-old who went to see the original hit film in 1995 is now at or near 50. Its stars – Will Smith and Martin Lawrence – are 25 years older as well. Indeed, Lawrence’s character of Marcus Burnett seems to have morphed into the Danny Glover character from the “Lethal Weapon” movies as he becomes a grandfather and wants to retire.
In BAD BOYS FOR LIFE, it’s been 17 years since “Bad Boys II,” which means that Lawrence and Smith are following the path of action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in trying to revitalize careers by playing action roles that they long should have outgrown. Smith, at 51, and Lawrence, 54, aren’t exactly senior citizens, but they both seem past their sell-by date for this kind of movie. It says something that the movie is being dumped in January (the last film was a summer release).
The story involves Armando (Jacob Scipio) who has been sent to Miami from Mexico by his mother Isabel (Kate del Castillo) to avenge the death of his father. He’s been killing those responsible for the drug kingpin’s demise, but Mike Lowery (Smith) survives. Thus, much of the film consists of action set pieces, car chases, and Mike deciding that there’s no reason that a police detective has to abide by any sort of rules in seeking out the perpetrators.
The film is an uneasy mix of violent action, comedy, and maudlin drama. The film veers from goofiness to people being shot or otherwise violently killed to Mike or Marcus having an emotional moment. There’s a twist in the story – not revealed here – that comes across as contrived, even if it serves to set us up for yet another sequel. Whether that film ever happens will likely depend on the box office returns of this one.
In jumping between Miami and Mexico City, the film offers some colorful locations but fails to engage us in the concerns of either of its lead characters. That’s fatal since its success depends on us actually caring about where it ends up. The death of one of the supporting characters does resonate – briefly – but only because the actor gives the movie’s most engaging performance.
To be fair, after a lot of action scenes that are the cinematic equivalent of fast food, the set piece in the climax involving a showdown in an abandoned multistory hotel is impressive. It’s the moment where the filmmakers light up the screen figuratively and literally. It’s not enough to save the film, but it is an exciting sequence on its own.
Those who are invested in the series will no doubt want to see it, but if you haven’t even thought about these characters since 2003, watching “Bad Boys For Life” will feel like going to a high school reunion and running into people whose names and faces are, at best, dim memories.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.