Film/TV » Film Features

Bad Boys for Life

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return for a hyper-violent curtain call.

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The thing you need to know about Bad Boys for Life is that Michael Bay didn't direct it.

It's probably unseemly for a critic to carry such a grudge against a specific director, but in my defense, Bay did waste a lot of my time. And it's not as if my low opinion of Mr. Bay's abilities is a controversial stance. The intro to his Wikipedia page contains the line: "Despite his commercial success at the box office, Bay's work is generally held in low esteem by film critics."

Yeah, you could say that. The last Michael Bay movie I had to sit through was Transformers: The Last Knight, which was considered a failure because it only made $604 million. I considered it a failure because it didn't make a damn lick of sense. Bay recently convinced Netflix to pony up for $150 million worth of 'splody stuff for 6 Underground, but I'm not going to watch it due to my current self-care regimen.

Martin Lawrence (left) and Will Smith are in it for life in Bad Boys for Life.
  • Martin Lawrence (left) and Will Smith are in it for life in Bad Boys for Life.

Bay directed both the original 1995 Bad Boys and the 2003 sequel, which cast a pair of sitcom stars, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, in a kind of Miami Vice scenario, except they're both Tubbs. The first film made the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air a bonafide movie star. It was that very peculiar '80s sub-genre, the buddy cop action comedy. They were once ubiquitous, but the pitch seems weird now: What if Death Wish was funny? What if Dirty Harry had a wisecracking sidekick? The buddy cop thing was pioneered by Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in 48 Hours, and then aped endlessly for 20 years. There were so many bad ones, but there was the occasional fun one, like Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in Running Scared.

I said earlier that both Smith and Lawrence were Tubbs archetypes. That's not entirely true. Smith's Mike "Bulletproof" Lowrey is definitely Tubbs-like. He dresses, as Lawrence's Marcus Burnett says late in Bad Boys for Life, like a drug dealer. He tears around Miami in a Porsche, and that's where we meet him and Marcus for the first time in 17 years. Marcus is more like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, perpetually getting too old for this shit. Now, he really is getting too old for it. The reason they're speeding through Miami with cops in hot pursuit is to get to the birth of Marcus' grandson.

The opening chase is a pretty impressive piece of action filmmaking. Bad Boys was the creation of one of the most toxic duos in film history, Bay and super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The new directors, the Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah seem to have been given instructions by Bruckheimer to "make it like Mike." This looks like a Bay movie, only better. I get the impression that Arbi and Fallah would shoot the entire thing in 1,000 fps slo-mo if they could, like when they pause the action for a loving, extended close-up of a molotov cocktail hitting a car. They're not afraid to put a klieg light behind a slowly turning fan like it's 1989 and this is a Madonna video. Bay's signature wrap-around steadicam move appears a couple of times — the directors even use it to shoot Michael Bay's cameo.

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In Bay's later career, what was even worse than his accidental chaos cinema was the contempt for the audience that dripped from his every putrid frame. It wasn't just misogyny — although there was no shortage of that — it was the hatred that all of his characters had for each other, and the films had for them. Bad Boys for Life is still extremely violent ("Violence is what we do!" shouts Mike as he tries to get Marcus to break a vow of peace he made to God and mow some people down with a machine gun) and plenty misogynistic (the villain, Isabel Aretas [Kate del Castillo], is both a literal witch and Mike's ex-girlfriend), but that bottomless pit of bile is thankfully missing.

It's Smith and Lawrence that redeem this film, to the extent that it is redeemed. They're both miraculously well-preserved, their chemistry is great, and Smith's movie-star charisma is set to stun. Sure, they're copping licks from John Wick, Mission Impossible, Fast & Furious, and Fury Road left and right, but they're having a good time doing it. I guess it just goes to show you, everything's better without Bay on it.

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