To properly understand the global, cultural impact of the Bad Boys film franchise you need look no further than a dark British comedy from the mid aughts. In 2007’s Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are a pair of cops, Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman, who are trying to solve a string of suspicious deaths in a small town with low crime. Danny is a rookie whose concept of police work has been shaped entirely by action movies like Jackie Chan’s Super Cop. Nick is a by-the-book avatar for model police behavior who is recently transferred from another town’s department. The intentionally odd pairing is a humorous and masterful wink to the buddy cop genre they spoof throughout the film.
In an early scene, they are walking their beat and Danny asks Nick which cop films he’s seen:
“What about Lethal Weapon?”
“You seen Die Hard?”
“Bad Boys 2 ?”
At this last answer Danny stops in mid stride and asks, flabbergasted, “You ain’t seen Bad Boys 2??” When they get back to his apartment Danny opens his vault of DVDs — a virtual Blockbuster in his living room — and asks Nick to choose between watching Point Break and Bad Boys II. “Which one do you think I’d prefer?” he asks. “No, I mean which one do you want to watch FIRST?”
Mind you, this was only four years after the release of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s Bad Boys II (the louder and more incendiary sequel to their Miami-cop caper from 1995), which left a $130 million scorch mark on the U.S box offices — and in the studio’s budget.
There was nothing subtle about Bad Boys II. It was two hours and 27 minutes of bullets piercing leather, flesh and metal with all of the disregard for public safety of The Avengers thwarting a terrorist attack. Director Michael Bay kept the pyrotechnic team chewing through C4 as Mike Lowery (Smith), he of the single-and-mingling biceps, clashed verbally and aesthetically with his partner, Marcus Burnett (Lawrence), who grimaced his way through the car chases and gunfights hoping to just make it home to his wife and kids.
Bad Boys II was an event film because Smith, who was an add-on for the original after Lawrence had been cast, had since ascended to Hollywood’s A-list thanks to blockbusters like Independence Day, Men In Black, Enemy Of The State and the Academy Award nominated Ali. Returning for a sequel after a seven-year hiatus was unexpected, and Lawrence was no slouch either, with Big Mamas House and Life helping to purge the memory of his 1996 meltdown.
So imagine the break between movies being 17 years instead of seven. A whole 25 years after the first installment, we are getting a proper third, and most likely final, film, Bad Boys For Life. This is not a direct-to-video cash grab pimping the franchise name out to a new generation raised on streaming. With the only change being Michael Bay moving to producer (and cameo) status and handing directorial duties to Moroccan-born Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, Bad Boys For Life has all of the main actors returning to reprise their roles. But is this class reunion worth attending in the age of Facebook?
BBFL opens with a heartwarming call back to Bad Boys II that works to both mark the passage of time and remind us of who our stars are. Mike Lowery is a tad rounder in the face and dyes his goatee but is no less a badass ladies man, and Marcus has fully settled into his family man life as a new grandfather. Life has been good to the two Miami detectives, but they’ve made a lot of enemies spending two decades busting the biggest baddies in South Beach. A shadowy villain named Isabel (Kate Del Castillo) is busted out of jail by her son, a ruthless killer named Armando (Jacob Scipio), and she has a singular focus — to see Mike Lowery dead and take her place atop the Miami underworld.
As if being marked for death isn’t enough stress, Mike has to contend with a team of young upstarts in the Miami PD called AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations), led by an old flame, Rita (Paola Nunez). It’s kind of a tired trope; the young guns are high tech and cocky, but they police like they’ve grown up playing video games. Mike and Marcus are old school, bare-knuckle cops who made their reputations putting rubber to the road. Their tension makes for funny and biting exchanges, but if they are ultimately going to make the streets safe again (for Mike and themselves), they’ll have to learn to work together.
As the team interrogates Miami’s criminal element in search of Armando and his mother, it’s the dynamic between Marcus and Mike that still holds the film together. Marcus is a reluctant accomplice to Mike’s aggressive investigative work, trying to apply his newly found pacifism to being a more effective wingman. Their Hawk and Dove routine is hilarious as they fight to survive the requisite nightclub shootouts, car chases and undercover stings that predictably go bad.
The strength and weakness of Bad Boys For Life is that it feels familiar. They’ve gone through great pains to maintain the continuity from the second film, which means some of the things that were side-eye worthy were ported over. For example, Mike Lowery is a rich street cop (an oxymoron if there ever was one), the last person you’re going to for life guidance. But to hear a 50-year-old Will Smith, who has evolved into social media’s motivational life coach, drop N-bombs like a Quentin Tarantino villain is a bit jarring. And while some attempt is made to finally explain why Mike is this commitment-adverse workaholic, the exposition feels like an afterthought.
However, El Arbi and Fallah manage to trace Bay’s bombastic style (long drone shots and dramatic 360 rotations in half time) without creating a complete pastiche. They actually exercise some restraint and don’t use explosions to fill holes in the plot, rather, to raise the tension and build anticipation. But the body count is there and you will laugh as much as you wince. If you watched Bad Boys I and II to lose yourself in a live-action version of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, you will not be disappointed by this last latest installment.
And that is probably the only thing you can complain about with this film. It’s not entirely new, or even original, but like our favorite restaurant, we come for what we know and our heroes deliver a buffet of guilty pleasures that only a Bad Boy could prepare.
Bad Boys For Life is in theaters January 17.
Photo Credit: Sony Studios.