Adil and Bilall Bring Their Own Flavour to 'Bad Boys: Ride or Die': "We Love to Balance Between Hollywood and Independent Movies"

"It's still a popcorn movie, or like Will says: gourmet popcorn"

BY Rachel HoPublished Jun 5, 2024

The last four years have been a crash course in navigating the film industry for Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, the Belgian filmmaking duo colloquially known simply as Adil and Bilall. After directing a number of critically acclaimed films in their home country, the filmmakers got their big Hollywood break in 2018 when Sony tapped them to helm Bad Boys for Life, the third instalment of the Bad Boys franchise that began in 1995.

Initially thought to be the final film in the series, Bad Boys for Life banked over $420 million at the worldwide box office, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of 2020, and received a positive reception from critics, prompting Sony to reconsider retiring Will Smith's Mike Lowrey and Martin Lawrence's Marcus Burnett. Four years later, Adil and Bilall return with Bad Boys: Ride or Die, a hyper-stylistic action flick with the classic comedy stylings that made these films worthwhile in the first place.

In between these two films, though, Adil and Bilall enjoyed their fair share of ups and downs, including directing the pilot and finale of the well-received Ms. Marvel series, as well as the very public (and now infamous) cancellation of Batgirl, both occurring in 2022.

"It has been an interesting experience. Coming out with Bad Boys right before COVID and then Ms. Marvel during COVID," recalls Adil in a joint interview with Exclaim! over Zoom. "And then obviously the disappointment with Batgirl, which never happened before on that scale — [it] was unprecedented. Then doing Bad Boys again..."

"And the strikes!" chimes in Bilall, referencing the labour disputes in 2023 that saw both SAG-AFTRA and WAG strike for 148 days.

Adil laughs, "Yeah and the strikes in the middle of production. It's been a roller coaster of emotions, that's for sure, but I think that we're better filmmakers and better directors because of that."

Between working with Sony, DC and Marvel, Adil and Bilall returned home to create Rebel, a film written and directed by the filmmakers that follows a family torn apart by the Syrian Civil War. Rebel received four nominations at the Magritte Awards (think Belgian Oscars) and also marked the pair's Cannes Film Festival debut. The film explored complex issues such as ISIS and extremism, and handled these topics with a degree of sensitivity and nuance that typical Hollywood blockbuster fare doesn't exactly require.

"It's not a popcorn action movie, so we really delve deeper into that subject matter the way that Spike Lee would do, or Oliver Stone," explains Adil. "When we are doing a Bad Boys movie, it's still a popcorn movie, or like Will says: gourmet popcorn. We're more exploring the relationship between Mike and Marcus, and that's where the depth of the story truly lies. But the bad guy is [still] a typical Bad Boys bad guy."

Bilall continues, "We love to balance between Hollywood and independent movies. And I think as directors, it makes us richer. If you work in a Hollywood system, you have all the tools in the world you can work with, like the biggest actors — it's a dream. But it's a big-ass machine that's really difficult to navigate and take creative risks. When we make independent movies, we have that creative freedom, totally. Jumping back and forth is really the ideal career that we have in mind."

There's an old Hollywood adage, "one for me, one for them," that speaks to the artistic compromise many filmmakers have made — something that's increasingly relevant today, as algorithms and online virality become key factors in decision-making. In many ways, because Adil and Bilall's career spans the Atlantic, they're able to finesse this idea better than most, elevated with the insight they've accumulated in a short period of time on how the murky waters of Hollywood truly flow.

"We use that knowledge for our European projects, and at the same time, European projects allows us to try stuff and maybe sometimes have controversial ideas," says Adil. "That [ensures] we still keep an edge and don't become generic or bland."

Any fears of becoming generic or bland can be surely quashed with Ride or Die. While the bombastic quality of Bad Boys is ever-present in the film, the duo apply their own European sensibilities to the franchise's swishy camera work, sky-high explosions and R-rated humour.

A particular sequence in Ride or Die sees Will Smith operating his own camera rig, which allows the audience to flip between a first-person shooter perspective and an intense close-up of the film's star. It takes dynamic camerawork to a new level that's exciting — not just for the Bad Boys franchise, but action as a genre.

"They expect us to do our sauce in the movie and our flavour," says Bilall. "We get that freedom, but still, it's their franchise. It's a blend of what what we feel and what they feel."

Adil agrees, "Obviously there's still homages to Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, but [the film] really has a blend with the A&B flavour. Whether it's just in the story, the performance or the shots that we wanted to use, we tried to push it further and see how we could create action sequences that are fresh and different, that aren't just something generic that you've seen a million times before. That was pretty fun to explore."

As Adil and Bilall continue to make gains in Hollywood and Europe, they can feel at ease knowing they have at least one major supporter in their corner: original Bad Boys director Michael Bay. The guys describe Bay as their "cool uncle" who's expressed his pride in them for carrying on the Bad Boys torch for a new generation.

"We made two movies and Michael Bay made two movies. So Bad Boys is ours, too, now," jokes Bilall. "I'm going to text him that! 'It's ours now.'"

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