Bad Boys for Life movie review: Will Smith makes explosive return to form in Fast & Furious-inspired sequel
Bad Boys for Life
Directors - Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah
Cast - Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Núñez, Kate del Castillo, Nicky Jam, Joe Pantoliano
Any film that includes a scene in which DJ Khaled gets a cleaver in the face is a winner in my book. In Bad Boys for Life, not only does DJ Khaled get a cleaver in the face, he also gets ‘another one’ on the fingers.
It is one of the most satisfying moments in a film that is almost scientifically designed to appease the broadest demographic possible. And despite displaying — of late — a tendency to tarnish everything he touches, even the sudden appearance of Michael Bay isn’t enough of a distraction from the film’s genuinely (and surprisingly) involving plot.
Watch the Bad Boys for Life trailer here
It’s sort of serendipitous that Sony couldn’t afford to get Bay back as director. I can only image the damage his handheld digital cameras and quick cutting and gross worldview would have done to the film, especially a third act chase scene, which harkens back to more conservative times in Bay’s career, before he was let loose with immense budgets and a lack of oversight.
Incoming Belgian director duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who’ve given themselves the fittingly flippant credit ‘Adil & Bilall’ in Bad Boys for Life, do a solid job of mimicking Bay’s lurid visual style. Every outdoor scene seems to take place either during sunset or at night; and such is the lecherousness with which their camera views Will Smith, that were it a person, you’d be complaining to HR immediately. On several occasions, Adil and Bilall also break out Bay’s famous 360 hero shot. But wisely, they do not co-opt Bay’s problematic tone; in that regard, Bad Boys for Life is more like a Fast & Furious movie.
Detectives Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are hardly Bad Boys anymore. They are Good Men — or at least, they’re trying to be. A lifetime of leaving violence in their wake has shaken them up, Marcus more than Mike. But when a mysterious assassin begins systematically eliminating every individual who was involved in the incarceration and subsequent death of his father several years ago, Mike and Marcus agree to jump back in, one last time.
The odds were stacked against Bad Boys -- Will Smith is experiencing a lull in his career as a leading man, 17 years have passed since the last entry in the franchise, and in those 17 years the idea of action films has changed drastically.
The box office potential of long-dormant franchises is difficult to define in absolute terms. For every Jurassic World, there is a Blade Runner 2049; for every Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, there is a Mad Max: Fury Road. In both these examples, the better films made less money.
Interestingly, after delivering one of the biggest duds of his career in Gemini Man, a film in which he addressed his anxieties about themes such as legacy and parenthood, Smith finds himself drawn to similar ideas in Bad Boys for Life. One scene in particular essentially functions as a retread of a similar scene from that Ang Lee film, almost as if Smith is trying to get it right this time, now that he’s helped himself to a second bite.
This is one of the few dramatic through-lines that serve as the spine of the story, which is otherwise replete with wisecracks and dumb action. The crucial difference between Bad Boys for Life, and, say, Bay’s recent 6 Underground, is that Adil and Bilall pull it off with a twinkle in their eye and their tongue firmly in their cheek.
Screenwriters Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan — the latter of whom was also supposed to direct at one point — lay narrative set-ups with care, and pay them off handsomely. And they’re not above having a laugh at their own expense when they compare the plotting of the film to that of a Telenovela.
Bad Boys for Life, for its audience, will be an immensely enjoyable experience. It’s a shame that Sony has roped in Rohit Shetty to endorse the movie in India, in an attempt to associate the film with his brand of action, because it’s so much better than that.