'Bad Boys for Life' Is a Welcome Buddy-Cop Throwback

Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah

Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Joe Pantoliano

BY Kevin ScottPublished Jan 17, 2020

Just like its characters Mike (Will Smith) and Marcus (Martin Lawrence), the returning titular "bad boys" in Bad Boys for Life, there's little reason to expect that a third entry in the action-comedy series would be all that successful in 2020. The aging Miami cops stand about as much as a chance in keeping up with criminals as the film does of generating excitement within multiplexes ruled by comic book movies and an ongoing Fast and Furious franchise that has long since surpassed the kind of fiery spectacles featured in either Bad Boys installment. So it's all quite a shock then to find that this might just be the best Bad Boys yet.
A lot of the credit for that has to go to Smith and Lawrence, who are able to recapture their old chemistry effortlessly, as the mismatched partners find plenty more laughs to mine from their tried-and-true thorny dynamic. Rather than coasting on nostalgia or hitting familiar beats, though, BBFL swings for the fences in both its action sequences and narrative twists, while also trimming some of the hollow excess that bogged down 2003's Bad Boys II.
When we catch up with the duo, they are on divergent paths as usual. While Marcus is comfortably settling into retirement and life as a new grandfather, Mike isn't ready to give up life in the fast lane quite yet. We learn that in the intervening years not only did Mike break things off with Marcus's sister (Gabrielle Union) from the last film but he also jilted Rita (Paola Nuñez), the head of AMMO, a new elite division at the police department. Things are irrevocably altered when a motorcyclist performs a drive-by shooting on Mike and he's wounded within an inch of his life.
The culprit is Armando (Jacob Scipio), the son of the deceased leader of a drug cartel and his wife, Isabel (Kate del Castillo), who escapes from prison at the outset of the film. Under Isabel's direction, Armando is taking out members of law enforcement and the judicial system responsible for putting his mother and father behind bars. It's not too long after he's recovered that Mike begins convincing his old curmudgeonly superior Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano, finally old enough to properly embody the role) to let him pursue the case. Naturally, he has to talk Marcus into joining him in the effort.
With Michael Bay no longer in the fold, save for a cameo as a wedding MC, directors Adil and Bilall take over behind the camera and hew pretty closely to Bay's hyper-kinetic aesthetic, even going so far as to mimic Bay's signature shot, spinning around our heroes at one point. The script, which is credited to three writers including Joe Carnahan, strikes a nice balance between comedy and action throughout, lurching deftly from chase scenes to fistfights to shoot-outs, while keeping a few tricks up its sleeve for the third act.
Though hardly re-inventing the wheel, it all adds up to a welcome throwback that evokes a bygone era of buddy-cop action films without pandering to its audience. It may be a brave new world for these bad boys, and one that in many ways has already passed them by, but Bad Boys for Life proves there's still a place for them. Here we are 25 years after the original and 17 out from the sequel, and judging from a post-credits scene, the series surprisingly seems to still be more interested in its future than its past.

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