After having an unexpectedly good time with 6 Underground, Michael Bay’s latest boom-boom adventure abroad, my hopes immediately lifted for Bad Boys For Life. If anything, Bay has an authentic cinematic voice, something the current film world desperately needs. But when I read Bay wasn’t actually directing the third film in the long-running Bad Boys franchise he helped launch; I was perturbed. I might be the only critic in history who is dismayed Bay isn’t directing an upcoming feature, but there you have it. Off to a bad start.
It isn’t that directors Adil El Arbi and Bilali Fallah aren’t competent filmmakers. They do an excellent job of mimicking a Michael Bay film, down to the distinctive shot selection (the rotating camera being the most noticeable) and the cinematic cocktail of joyous mirth and absurd ultra-violence. Just like in Bad Boys II and the aforementioned 6 Underground, Bad Boys for Life is full of moments of genuine humor buttressed by gore-filled insanity. But mimicking is not being and despite the apparent blessing by Bay himself, who makes a cameo in the film, imposter syndrome abounds.
For Bad Boys for Life is not its own film but a parody of what came before; a Youtube highlight video of “best of” moments from years past but without the option to “skip ads”. No, you’re stuck watching the hackneyed crime plot and the absolutely absurd plot machinations play out. Michael Bay films weren’t always known for their screenplays and during the fan-film that is Bad Boys For Life, directors Adil and Bilali (that is how they are billed in the credits) and the three screenwriters decide to add M. Night Shyamalan plot twists (two of them!) into the formula with disastrous results.
It has been seventeen years since the events of Bad Boys II. However, detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are still the havoc-causing detectives of Miami’s police department, just a little older and greyer (though Lowrey does his best to hide that fact). But after the birth of his first grandchild, Marcus is retiring, realizing he needs to stay alive for his expanded blood relations and not for the family of black and blue officers he’s been a part of for over 25 years.
One night, celebrating Marcus’ new status as granddad in downtown Miami, a young cartel man named Armando (Jacob Scipio) shoots Mike multiple times, nearly killing him. Armando, under the command of his mother, the recently escaped convict Isabel (Kate del Castillo), then continues to execute a number of seemingly random targets throughout Miami’s law enforcement realm, including judges, ex-officers, and even police snitches.
With Mike and Marcus estranged after Marcus’ unwillingness to go off-book and investigate the shooting, Mike goes solo without his Bad Boy for life, utilizing ex-flame Rita’s (Paola Núñez) newly formed A.M.M.O. speciality team to hunt down Armando and figure out why he was the target of an execution-style murder. The results of his bloody and action-packed investigation reveal shocking truths from Mike’s past that force Marcus out of retirement for one last mission.
The best part of Bad Boys For Life is the humor. Unlike in the first two Bay films, where the camaraderie between Mike and Marcus was sometimes forced, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence appear to be having quite the grand old time in this installment and the comedy flows organically, if not consistently. They always had good chemistry regardless of how much the script demanded they be the next Riggs and Murtaugh in prior installments, so a softer touch goes a long way here.
It’s just too bad the movie abandons the comedy at times to deliver second rate schmaltz and the aforementioned Shyamalanian reveals to blot out the sun. If Bad Boys For Life strove to be a straight-up comedy, it would have done better but despite a full commitment from Smith, who wastes two well-acted scenes of intensity for virtually nothing, the dramatic aspects of Bad Boys For Life seem inadequately thrown together. It is clear someone wanted Smith and Lawrence back under the Bad Boys banner first and considered the how and why much, much later.
And that brings us back to directors Adil and Bilali and their pyrrhic war with Bayness. Their attempt to replicate Bay to the minute detail strips the film of any unique personality, for only Bay can do Bay. The action comes across as so generic and, frankly, boring that you’ll be checking your watch quite often, wondering when this whole thing is going to get moving. For scenes involving high speed chases with motorcycles, helicopters, and the coolest looking Porsches around, being bored is the kiss of death for an action film.
And the occasional laugh is nice, especially from Lawrence, who hasn’t made a decent comedy in decades, but it is not enough to lift the film out of the doldrums of mediocrity. It is clear Bad Boys For Life is more a vacant cash grab for nostalgia than a commentary on nostalgia itself. Attempts to show Mike and Marcus learning something from age and endless death are made moot by the next head-exploding action sequence. They may be Bad Boys but they are Bad Boys On Life Support.