STARRING: WILL SMITH; MARTIN LAWRENCE; JOE PANTOLIANO; VANESSA HUDGENS
DIRECTED BY: ADIL EL ARBI; BILALL FALLAH
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
There is one thing missing from Bad Boys for Life and it’s the direct reason why I had a great time with the third installment of this action series. It does not have Michael Bay behind the camera, and although the Transformers director certainly has created his own style of filmmaking, it has been a style that I loath. It’s as if his fast moving camera tricks and incoherent action sequences were holding something back and now the baton has been passed to directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who bring an energetic clarity to the series. When you have two superstars in Will Smith and Martin Lawrence it’s a good start, but what BBFL does a solid job of is straddling the line of an old-school cop-buddy flick, while understanding that these stars are not getting any younger. The Miami detective duo of Michael “Mike” Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) have just enough in the tank for one more ride, with grandkids being born, retirement on the horizon, and a ruthless cartel leader on the hunt for revenge. Bad Boys for Life proves that the third time around is definitely the charm.
When you take into account that Bad Boys (1995) and Bad Boys II (2003) had arguably inspired the Fast and the Furious (2001) series, and now, in it’s older age, inches closer to a similar style as the Vin Diesel movies. Working off of a screenplay by Chris Bremmer, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan, there’s an aura of veteran leadership with a backdrop of cool Miami nights. Instead of Mike and Marcus chasing bad guys, the film opens with them hilariously speeding to a hospital delivery room, with Marcus weeping over the birth of his new grandson. Things are different, family matters first, and the thrill of the chase is fading for Marcus. For Mike it’s a different story. He’s never been able to settle down and his career of catching the bad guy has made him plenty of enemies, including escaped convict Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), and her highly skilled assassin son Armando (Jacob Scipio), who shoots Mike leaving him bloody and bruised. The old man is down, but he’s certainly not out.
On the surface it may sound like BBFL is more Last Vegas than Miami Vice, but there is plenty of action from start to finish. There are fight sequences that are intense and well-choreographed, set pieces that I wish were part of the first two films, including a high-speed motorcycle chase that proves there is still nothing better than a well executed chase sequence. Yet, instead of following old patterns that Bay installed, Bad Boys for Life has a sense of who these characters are. Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano stealing every moment) still yells at the duo for their reckless abandonment, but the veterans find humility with their age, and team up with the new kids on the block. They include tech-wiz Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), stealth guru Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), and the muscular Rafe (Charles Melton), all led by Mike’s former love interest Rita (Paola Nunez). They add a bit of help, but what it all comes down to is the friendship of Mike and Marcus, still having the back of one another, even if it means taking a bullet for the other if they have to.
What also must be mentioned is that BBFL is an unspoken awakening for the career of Will Smith. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has had a string of duds- Bright, Collateral Beauty, and Gemini Man– and here he is getting back to what makes him a star. There is an attitude of cool, where he’s driving fast Lamborghini, wearing slick suits, and prepared to take his shot. Then you have Lawrence who is having the most fun he’s had in some time (he’s also great in The Beach Bum), dropping plenty of digs for laughs, including a scene where he pokes the wound of a bad guy that is both awkward and painfully hilarious. That’s all because a duo like this and strong direction from the team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, easily reminds us that good action does not need capes and cowls. The ending gets bit long in the tooth, maybe even bloated in the drama, but it’s all good. It’s a throwback to the styles of movies such as 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, or more recently 21 Jump Street. The two actors may be getting older in age, but at this point there’s an excellent chemistry between one another. It makes me wish they would go back and re-do Bad Boys and Bad Boys II. Can that be done? Just keep Michael Bay away, because without his influence Bad Boys for Life is action-packed.
Written by: Leo Brady