Movie Review: Bad Boys for Life
Bad Boys proved movie formula could transcend all demographic boundaries while establishing the career of Michael Bay, but a quarter century hence, not even the combined charisma of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence can salvage the bore and gore of a tired reboot.
Bad Boys for Life
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Kate Del Castillo, Paola Nunez, Joe Pantoliano
Directed by: Adil & Bilall
Running time: 2 hrs 3 mins
By Katherine Monk
Shtick, like people, does get old. Even when it, and they, once had an important place in the world. Bad Boys earned a place in pop culture history because in 1995, it put two young, charismatic black comic actors in starring roles — and pulled in big, white crowds. A $19-million budget reaped $141-million worldwide in receipts, not only putting another feather in Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson’s producer’s cap, but earning a 30-year-old commercial director named Michael Bay a place at the A-list action table.
Bad Boys earned a place in pop culture history because in 1995, it put two young, charismatic black comic actors in starring roles — and pulled in big, white crowds.
The movie’s success proved that buddy-cop movie formula and name recognition transcended demographic pie charts. Audiences just wanted an action-fuelled comedy that could deliver explosions and car chases along with a requisite amount of manly chemistry and the movie put it all on a sexy platter of Miami beaches and bikinis. It wasn’t long before we got a sequel, and more of the same bad boy banter.
If you’ve never seen a Bad Boys movie, the idea is Mike (Will Smith) is a handsome bachelor who enjoys living on the edge, driving too fast and cuffing the bad guys without doing all the appropriate paperwork. Marcus (Martin Lawrence) is the reluctant partner who prefers playing it safe.
Can you hear the howls to slow down? Can you imagine the goofy expressions of fear? So funny. Or is it? Was it ever funny? The only two scenes I can conjure where a dangerous car chase resulted in stomach-cramping laughter was the one with Goldie Hawn, Japanese tourists and Chevy Chase in Foul Play (1978) and Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal in What’s Up Doc? (1972).
But they’re old movies. Like me. And for me, the whole thing feels old now. Or, just older, because even in the golden dawn of Bad Boys’s original release, it was considered a rehash of cliché, with the New York Times review calling it a “cinematic Frankenstein’s monster… stitched together… from the body parts of other movies.” At the time, the reviewer noted that “the genre shows few signs of wearing itself out.” But 25 years later, the genre — like all of us who came of age in the ‘80s and ‘90s — is showing more than a little grey.
The passing of time puts some gas into the film’s tired engine, with Marcus now looking to retire and become a full-time Pop-Pop while Mike still pull donuts in his Porsche and pins villains. The friendship hits a real bump as they grapple with maturity, but the buddy dilemma which anchors the whole film’s raison d’être gets pushed into the background.
…the buddy dilemma which anchors the whole film’s raison d’être gets pushed into the background.
The plot gets diluted with a bunch of new AMMO. That’s an acronym for Advance Miami Metro Operations, an elite new branch of the police force that looks like a Tommy Hilfiger catalogue for fashion-conscious militia. These new whipper-snappers — including Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig and Charles Melton — give Marcus and Mike a generational reality-check, teaching them how modern police work depends on computers and eavesdropping drones.
The old boys feel a tad threatened by the young folk, but the real tension is, inevitably, testosterone-based. The young studs challenge Mike’s alpha status. They also articulate all the barbs that may be lingering in the back of any viewer’s mind, and offer a more immediate handle for Moroccan-born Belgian filmmakers Adil & Bilall — who got the nod from Simpson-Bruckheimer for the same reason they gave the nod to Michael Bay all those years back: They’ve got a youthful vision and a flare for action.
They also learned everything they know by watching action movies from the same era that spawned Bad Boys, which means they’re recreating the same beats — only with a harsher, 21st century edge that hones the violence, and give every cut a graphic ickiness — whether it’s the sight of a slashed carotid or a high-velocity round to the cranium.
In the post-Tarantino age, fusing this much gore with gratuitous comedy is, unfortunately, normal. But to what end? When there is no tonal difference between gallows humour and silly gags, and barely a two-second beat between a brutal killing and a dirty diaper joke, we don’t really have time to process anything on a deeper level.
In the post-Tarantino age, fusing this much gore with gratuitous comedy is, unfortunately, normal. But to what end?
In this case, that’s probably just as well since Bad Boys can’t deliver depth of feeling. It can only offer pulverized formula that not even the filmmakers seem able to swallow, which may be why the gags never end, and the movie leaves a bad aftertaste.
THE EX-PRESS, January 17, 2020
To read more movie reviews by Katherine Monk, check out the Ex-Press archive or sample career work at Rotten Tomatoes.