A quarter-century after their first buddy-cop adventure, Bad Boys for Life shows why its protagonists have never been promoted from their beat on the streets of Miami.
This belated continuation of the action-comedy franchise — coming 17 years after the most recent installment — reunites Will Smith and Martin Lawrence for a mixed bag of character-driven nostalgia and high-octane explosions that generally lacks inspiration beyond a few scattered laughs.
Fans of the first two films might enjoy seeing the freewheeling detectives back together again after all these years, but it’s less certain whether a younger generation will come along for the ride.
When we first met Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) in 1995, they were fresh-faced upstarts with attitude and charisma to spare. That was true for both actors, too, who used the original film as a cinematic breakthrough following parallel sitcom successes.
These days, the characters are much older and marginally wiser, while Smith and Lawrence are at a much different stage in their respective careers, having experienced the highs and lows of megastardom.
While such a meta breakdown of a Bad Boys movie might be unnecessary, it’s uncanny how the co-stars recapture their comedic chemistry even as the topics evolve toward aging, retirement, mortality, and bickering about technology and millennials.
Unfortunately, the screenplay doesn’t give them much to work with, saddling them with a story loosely connected to the prior film, after the prison escape of a Mexican cartel boss (Kate Del Castillo) with a prior connection to Mike.
She and her ruthless son (Jacob Scipio) seek revenge for a family member’s murder, and Mike becomes one of the targets. New grandfather Marcus wants to retire. Yet with his partner in danger, he’s destined to join up for one last ride. Once again, their overzealous efforts rile their beleaguered captain (Joe Pantoliano).
From there, the film relies on series staples such as shootouts and car chases in exotic locales, along with perilous confrontations between heroes and villains. The attempts at deeper emotional resonance fall flat, as does a convoluted third-act twist that precedes the final showdown.
Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah replace Michael Bay but retain his emphasis on spectacle over substance with material that’s more familiar than fresh. “I’m going to be running down criminals until I’m 100,” Mike jokes. That’s fine, as long as we don’t have to see it.