“Bad Boys for Life” is here! It’s been 17 years since the last one hit theaters. The first two were directed by Michael Bay and dropped in the peak of the spring and summer blockbuster season back in 2003 and 1995. Bay is out for this third one and in the director’s chair this time is Adil Arbi and Bilall Fallah. It’s also January, the known dumping ground for studios which to be honest did have me a little worried that my beloved buddy-cop action franchise would be tarnished with a less than stellar new movie that many wanted a decade ago.
I’ve loved this franchise since I was in high school. Martin Lawrence and Will Smith back in ’95 were sitcom royalty and to see them team up for an action comedy was amazing. “Bad Boys” was the first full-feature movie for director Michael Bay and he was much tamer back then with his style feeling like a breath of fresh air in the genre. By the time “Bad Boys II” came around he was much more comfortable with excess, but still the movie thrived on the chemistry and timing between Smith and Lawrence. Much like this new movie did because the strongest aspect of “Bad Boys for Life” was the relationship growth and banter between these guys.
You can’t teach chemistry between actors. You either have it or you don’t, and there is no denying the charm between Smith and Lawrence is still in place for this newest entry. I was worried this franchise would feel stale and while I wouldn’t say it was 100% fresh, I was surprised to see as much of the humor landing as it did. The writing was something I broke down into a couple sections. One being the comedic dialogue, and the other being the overall narrative and the scene to scene dialogue that drove events forward. The comedic side was a surprising success with a lot of jokes landing for me despite their varying levels of cheesiness. Because there were a handful of clever lines dropped in throughout.
The laughs were tailored nicely to have both a sense-of-humor and a good amount of self-awareness which created a fun atmosphere for an action comedy. On the narrative side of the writing, it wasn’t the best. Yet the story actually does work to build a modest amount of curiosity, and it fuels a ton of fun melodramatics. This movie felt like a soap opera at times, with soap opera level dialogue between the characters. And while it may not have been traditionally good, it was still entertaining much like the “Fast and Furious” movies were before they felt played out.
There’s a nice balance between the growth of Burnett and Lowrey with the main plot-line which I enjoyed given the beats of the story were not the most compelling. It’s a constant flow between violent action, relationship growth between Burnett and Lowrey, frequent humor, cheesy melodrama, and a by the numbers action movie plot. And it manages to blend into an engaging movie that will entertain you if you are a fan of this franchise or the genre. It may have been a derivative plot, but there were a handful of surprises and a few twists that caught me off guard. For myself those were the moments that made this one stand on its own, without feeling like a tired cash grab.
The performances from Lawrence and Smith were pretty much what you would expect from them in these roles and they once again show that as a team they can still carry a movie on their shoulders. There are some familiar faces from the past, and some new additions that gave the cast overall a range of personality types that all had their own layer of appeal. Some add to the humor in their own way and others add a unique influence on the action and it worked. The action set-pieces were well-crafted with a ton of shoot-outs, car chases, and fight-sequences that littered the run-time from start-to-finish and it made this movie a charming ride.
A small nitpick I had with this one despite enjoying the action was the visual styling it had. Arbi and Fallah through their direction captured a little too much a “Fast and Furious” tone and polish. This movie felt like the offspring of Michael Bay and the “Fast and Furious” and despite all the vibrant backdrops and stylistic framing of shots it felt visually generic in many places. The editing, the saturation of color, DJ Khaled working the music selection, all of it made this movie feel like a spin-off of another franchise as opposed to feeling like a sequel of its own. However, with Smith and Lawrence carrying the charismatic load, it didn’t hinder the overall enjoyment too much.
I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting to and that’s saying something given I already went into this one wanting to have a great time. I laughed with it. I chuckled at it. The action was violent and hit with impact. And the performances from Smith and Lawrence prove they still have a great connection with one another. Some of the action-sequences could’ve benefited from Michael Bay’s skill set in that area. But the new direction pumped some life to this threequel. And if you like this franchise and are on the fence about this third entry, I suggest giving it a shot because I had a blast with it and walked out of the theater smiling.
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