Review: Bad Boys For Life

I didn’t think there needed to be another Bad Boys film, but this surprisingly good third entry ditches Michael Bay’s immaturity for more measured action comedy.

Miami cops Mike Lowry (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) struggle to face up to being much older than their colleagues, though still quip and snipe lovingly with each other. An explosive threat from the past in the form of Mexican cartel leader Esela (Kate del Castillo) and son Armando (Jacob Scipio) shakes up their world – as does the presence of a team of young hotshot police.

You can probably guess, if you’ve seen either of the previous films, how much of this film will go down. It’s a surprisingly successful little franchise that lives and dies on the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence, though until this one it had been rocket propelled along by the insanity of Michael Bay.

This manifested itself in ever escalating, bombastic action scenes and ogling of scantily clad women, cars and guns. While the first was a fun 90s romp, the second went too far on every count: only the Transformers films and Bay’s latest 6 Underground were more “pure” Bay than Bad Boys 2.

Thankfully he’s not directing this time (though he appears in a bizarre cameo) – and the series is immediately better. Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah take over, and not only can they shoot action that you can actually follow, but they get into the characters in a way Bay never bothered with bar comedic purposes.

The two directors balance easy to follow, concussive action and drama (complete with great stunts), and there’s a good mix throughout, while the plot has more purpose than just something that the action hangs on. While 15 year old Will (Roszczyk) enjoyed Bad Boys 2 for all its Bayness, it’s aged terribly – Bad Boys For Life is better ironically because it recognises that the characters have aged (not terribly in the case of Smith).

Its screenplay (by Joe Carnahan, Peter Craig and Chris Bremner) threads a far less plothole-filled story with interesting twists and wry humour, though many jokes are naff and characters are underdeveloped. However, there’s reverence (at times, a bit too sickly sweet) for the two protagonists, who are what’s strongest about this series.

Another large part of what makes it all easier to enjoy is the unshowy editing of Dan Lebental and Peter McNulty, who liberate us from Bay’s swoopy camera and slow it all down – without making the action less exciting.MV5BMWU0MGYwZWQtMzcwYS00NWVhLTlkZTAtYWVjOTYwZTBhZTBiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_ Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert takes lessons from other movies in depicting Miami, giving days and nights their own uniquely Floridian feel (hazy, sun kissed and sea blue days through stark neon cityscapes and tropical, hot evenings.

It also helps that music is in the more capable hands of Lorne Balfe, one of Hans Zimmer’s many proteges making his own mark. While some action scenes sound very Zimmerish, Balfe cleverly interweaves the memorable refrain from the original films into his larger score, making it feel connected and integral.

Perhaps the main and only reason this has appealed so much to audiences though is Will Smith – who, it’s fair to say, has been on a shit run for a while. Returning to an old character, as so many actors have done recently, is always a good idea in that context, and Smith is much more his old self here. He looks ridiculously good for his age (like Tom Cruise, if not more so), and is not just the guns blazing action hero, but acts as well – it’s not all shouting and joking (there’s plenty of that though). It’s a bit of the old Smith charm back at last – I hope he uses this as a springboard to more interesting roles.

Martin Lawrence returns from a sort of retirement to play… a policeman determined to retire! While often quite one note, it’s the chemistry he has with Smith and his role as the comic relief/clown that appeals. He doesn’t disappoint in this regard (a couple shouty, ranty quips are hilarious), and his comic timing is strong, but he almost mines his own retirement to access that sense of finality – Marcus wants out, and for everyone to be safe – making the character more interesting than before.

Del Castillo doesn’t get called on to do much more than glower and be overly “Evil Mexican”, a shame given the nastiness of her introduction and a couple of too quick confrontations come the end. Scipio fares slightly better as her ruthlessly effective son,  interesting elements of the character arriving too late to offset the rather one-note role.

This sense of underdeveloped secondary characters spreads also to the AMMO team (a ridiculous, very American acronym). Paola Nunez gives as much as she can to team leader and Mike’s old flame Rita, but there’s not much there beyond being a waypoint for Mike and an authority figure. The rest are barely fleshed out, including the (strangely cast) Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig and Charles Melton.

Much more could have been done to give them depth beyond “they’re young and have different skills to what older people assume they have”, though all manage to make a little impression. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will develop them a bit more. Finally , another Italian American Joe returns from acting retirement after Pesci in The Irishman. Pantoliano is back in freakout form as the ever suffering captain, looking older but still clearly enjoying playing the frazzled childminder to men not much younger!

It definitely won’t set the world on fire, but Bad Boys For Life is a good watch and a welcome return because – like its characters – it’s a bit more grown up.

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