Bad Boys for Life (2020) Review
THE BOYS ARE BACK!
Back in 1995, director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer release the film Bad Boys; releasing the motion picture during heyday of 90s era action-oriented endeavors. The film, which starred actors Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, followed the characters of Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett, two Miami narcotics police detectives that go undercover in the city in the hunt for drugs, cartel dealers, and kingpins. Bad Boys was received mixed reviews from critics and moviegoers (of that time), but has slowly gained a cult following (over time). Additionally, the movie did make a sizable splash at the box office during its theatrical run; grossing over $141 million against its $19 million production budget. Following the success of the film, a follow-up sequel was eventually greenlit and Bad Boys 2 materialized in 2003, with Bay returning as director and Smith and Lawrence returning as well in their respective roles of Mike and Marcus. However, despite the second installment grossing over its production with a modest sum (garnishing roughly $273 million at the box office against its $130 million production budget), Bad Boys 2 received negative reviews from critics and mixed thoughts from moviegoers. Now, roughly seventeen years since the release of Bad Boys 2, Sony / Columbia Pictures (and Don Simpson / Jerry Bruckheimer films) and directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah present the long-awaited sequel with the release of Bad Boys for Life. Is this belated sequel worth a watch or is it a pale shadow of the bygone 90s action days of movie characters taking down bad guys in style?
After Miami Police Detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) becomes a grandfather, he begins to evaluate his future on the force, promising a retirement to his wife, Theresa (Theresa Randle) to be there for his family. Facing the end of their lengthy partnership as Miami’s “Bad Boys”, Detective Mike Lowery (Will Smith) isn’t quite that ready to settle down like Marcus, preferring the more carefree nonchalant, and hard-charging life of police work and lifestyle he’s been accustomed to for most of his career. Meanwhile, Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), a recent fugitive from a Mexican prison who’s looking for revenge after the death of her cartel leader husband. Unable to do the work herself, Isabel sends her son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to set in motion a series of “clean house” of all those tied to loss of her spouse, with Mike on the list. Taking three bullets to the chest and miraculously surviving, Mike is ready to strike back, looking to Marcus, along with the members of the new tactical group named AMMO, to back him up for one last ride together. However, the deeper the follow the clues to Armando and Isabel, the deeper the truth comes out as to why the Aretas want him dead.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Come on…you know the main chorus part of the song….” Bad boys, bad boys. Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you”. Growing up in the 90s era of films, I always loved a good action movie and, much like people say, it really was the “sign of the times”; garnishing a sense of grit and violent action frivolities throughout the many theatrical releases in the genre. 1995’s Bad Boys was certainly one of them and definitely highlighted some of the best action thrills and nuances of the mid-90s era of Hollywood action movies. Along with a lot of the other releases around that time period such as Con-Air and The Rock (basically anything released under the Jerry Bruckheimer banner), I loved Bad Boys and it showed the comedic duo of Smith and Lawrence within the action violence with plenty of fun storytelling of the buddy cop angle. It definitely worked and it still holds up as a great action film of that decade. A few years later, Bad Boys 2 was released and, despite the film receiving mixed to negative reviews (as mentioned above), I still personally loved it as it still showed the great dynamics and likeability and sort of “up the ante” in its action in all of the explosive “Michael Bay” style of violence and extensive sequences of car chases and action. Thus, together, the two Bad Boys films have certainly been had had a celebrated run; presenting a fun and entertaining yarn of two Miami police detectives and taking down bad guys with style and crazy action cinematics.
This brings back to present day, with the release of Bad Boys for Life, the third installment in the action franchise series. The idea of a Bad Boys 3 was certainly mentioned for quite some time as it was speculated / talked about immediately after the release of Bad Boys 2, with the potential third installment being tossed around through the better part of a decade, including various directors and writers being attached. Thus, the actual road to getting Bad Boys 3 off the ground and into production has certainly been ordeal, but was soon finally solidified in 2018, with project be named Bad Boys for Life and confirming that actors Will Smith and Martin Lawrence returning to reprise their lead character roles. This, of course, got me excited to see this third installment, with the film’s movie trailers certainly promising an entertaining third Bad Boys outing. On the other hand, I was a little bit leery about the film, especially since past director Michael Bay wasn’t attached to the film as director as well as the whole belatedness of the sequel’s release (i.e. Hollywood’s resurgence of revisiting older properties for long-awaited sequel and yielding mediocre results). Beyond that worry, I was definitely looking forward to seeing this movie (even placed it on my Top 15 Most Anticipated Movies of 2020 list) and went to see Bad Boys for Life during its opening night. And what did I think of it? Well, I really liked it. Despite a few problems with it, Bad Boys for Life is one of the better belated sequels that Hollywood has put out and delivers on plenty of action thrills and gives fan what they would expect from this third installment. It does outshine the previous two Bad Boys features, but it is still a entertaining and fun action romp to get lost in…to just sit back and enjoy the movie.
As mentioned above, previous Bad Boys director Michael Bay did not return to direct this movie; leaving the project to continue work on other endeavors. So, the directorial duties for Bad Boys for Life comes in the form of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, whose previous works includes such projects like Patser, Black, and Image. Given their previous background, Adil and Bilall make this particular film to be the most ambitious and star-studded Hollywood motion picture. To that end, the duo directors certainly find success; shaping this third installment in the action franchise in a way that won’t alienate its longtime fans, but makes it quite easy for newcomers to enjoy the feature by making it accessible and easy to digest (in an R-rated action romp). From that statement, Adil and Bilall approach Bad Boys for Life with a sense of appreciation for Michael Bay’s previous two films and certainly make this particular movie have a 90s style action nostalgia feeling that’s sort of wrapped (and filmed) within today’s modern age of moviemaking. Thus, if you liked the past two Bad Boys movies, you’ll definitely like this one. Adil and Bilall also take a lot of nuances from Bay’s work (well…. minus the misogyny, racism, and excessive action fatigue) and keeps the film straight forward with its action, which is still amped up to the level of large-scale action fun. If you’re an action junkie out there, Bad Boys for Life will deliver the goods as to what you’re looking for, with the movie staging plenty of them throughout the story’s narrative. Still, at the heart of the movie (as well as the entire franchise), is the partnership / relationship between the two Miami police detectives of Mike and Marcus, with Adil and Bilall always keeping that in the feature’s forefront presentation. Plus, the film’s comedy is quite spot on as the two directors certainly know how to play to the film’s strengths of having its two main leads bicker and banter with each other in a very fun and amusing way (more on that below). Thus, in a nutshell, Bad Boys for Life doesn’t redefine the action genre for a new moviegoing age of viewers, but rather reinforces the idea of an old school 90s era action romp
Also, some might argue that the movie heavily borrows from the crazy “over the top” action nuances from the more recent Fast & Furious features, which have certainly become a parody staple of ridiculous action aesthetics and nuances. While I certainly agree with that, especially in trying to update the franchise material for a new generation, it didn’t bother me as much. I mean…. look at Bad Boys 2’s over the top action scenes…and that was released back in 2003; way before the Fast & Furious franchise became more larger-than-life in its action level heroics. So, it’s just depends on your personal taste. To me, the film’s action was great and, while it probably took some influence from the Fast & Furious series, it doesn’t go fully blown ridiculousness.
The overall technical presentation of Bad Boys for Life is indeed a solid one that certainly fits right in line with both the previous Bad Boys installments as well as modern day cinematic storytelling. As mentioned, the movie works with a blend of 90s era aesthetics within a modern-day filmmaking package, with the two finding harmony (rather than contrasting) and creates a very familiar (yet updated) vibe throughout the feature’s various background settings (i.e. Miami and Latin-inspired locales) and visual flair. Thus, the identifiable “behind the scenes” individuals, including Jon Billington (production designs), Lori Mazuer and Daniela Rojas (set decorations), and Dayna Pink (costume designs) as well as few other filmmaking areas, certainly help bring this feature to life in a very stylish and visual way. Plus, the cinematography work by Robrecht Heyvaert is top notch and the more “modern” approach to creating some stylish cinematic scenes is a well-received in the movie. I mean, the film’s climatic ending, while not as explosive “balls to the walls” crazy as Bad Boys 2’s ending sequence, was still quite visually fun and very cinematically beautiful. Additionally, the entire stunt team behind the movie’s action sequences should be mentioned and praised by choreographing and executing the many action level moments throughout the film. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Lorne Balfe, is quite good with plenty of solid musical pieces and composition melodies that certainly fit within the various action sequences and / or character dialogue moments. Plus, it’s great to hear the original Bad Boys theme being incorporated every so often in Balfe’s score.
From what I saw, there were a few problems that I noticed with Bad Boys for Life that, while I still found the film to be entertaining, couldn’t overcome the hurdles that were presented / created in its undertaking. For the most part, the film’s narration of the story is quite predictable. From start to finish, it’s quite clear to see where the movie will be ultimately heading towards, with little to no unexpected twists along the way. Yes, there were one or two surprises that got my attention and fooled my expectations, but a great majority of the movie is pretty the standard formula of old school action flicks. This can be both a “good or bad” thing for some viewers (depending on how you look at it), but, while I was sort of expecting this to be the case, I kind of wanted to see a little bit more creative ingenuity in the storyboarding process of the film. I mean…the film literally had over seventeen years to shape a strong narrative and what’s given, which works, doesn’t really color outside the lines of the established bullet strewn Bad Boys world. Thus, the film’s script, which was credited to Chris Bremmer, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan, could’ve had a little bit better finessing in the formation process and storytelling. This coincides with the film’s main antagonist roles, which certainly have the villainy that Bad Boys for Life calls for, but fails to deliver a thorough main bad guy action scheme. Definitely could’ve been better written.
Additionally, the film’s pacing is a bit off at certain times. With the film clocking at 123 minutes (two hours and three minutes), Bad Boys for Life isn’t as bloated as Bad Boys 2, which had a runtime of 147 minutes (two hours and twenty-seven minutes), but still feels long and doesn’t have a consistent flow in certain areas. It’s not a complete train wreck that derails the feature, but sets up plenty of action scenes that are immediately slowed down by dialogue / character moments. Even Bay’s efforts on the previous two Bad Boys feature had a better understanding of pacing. All in all, nothing in the movie changes the ‘status quo” of the established Bad Boys formula, which is both a curse and blessing, with viewers will happily indulge in the film’s styles and others being turned off and seeing the film as a dated belated sequel.
Of course, the cast in Bad Boys for Life is a solid one, with plenty of recognizable talents attached to this project and certainly make the feature’s various players (be it major or minor) to be fun (albeit sometimes stock-like tropes) in this action movie motion picture. As with the previous two Bad Boys movies, the acting talents of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence headline the feature and once again reprising their roles as Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett respectfully. Much of the success of the previous two Bad Boys features have been credited to these two actors, with their comical banter and on-screen presence / chemistry with each other strengthen the character relationship between the two police detectives in this cinematic world. Bad Boys for Life continues that trends, with Smith and Lawrence easily sliding back into the character roles, despite it being seventeen years since they last played them. Smith, known for his roles in Independence Day, Men in Black, and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, has certainly been in the Hollywood spotlight for quite sometime and has continued to play the “charismatic” character, with the actor laying into his charming bravado / screen presence for a lot of his roles in movies. Thus, Smith’s return to Mike in Bad Boys for Life is terrific as actor continues to be the sort of “beating heart” (or at least half of it) towards the film; finding the heart and humor to the feature’s story with the character of Mike, who definitely is the more “primary” focus of the movie’s narrative. On the other hand, Lawrence, known for his roles in Martin, Big Momma’s House, and Blue Streak, has sort of “stepped away” from cinema spotlight for most of the 2010s era, so it was sort of a treat to see him returning to the silver screen and playing one of his most iconic character roles of his career. In contrast to Smith, Lawrence has certainly put on a little weight on his face (nothing personally wrong with that), but his comedic timing and chemistry he shares with co-star (i.e. Will Smith) has diminished, with the character of Marcus continuing to be the level-headed of the pair; complimenting Smith’s more loud and flashy Mike Lowery character. Collectively, these two are the best part of the Bad Boys franchise and their reteaming in this sequel movie is definitely worth the seventeen year wait, with plenty of back and forth comedic banter that’s quite hilarious. That’s for damn sure!
Behind the return of Smith and Lawrence, actor Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix and Memento) returns to reprise his role as Mike and Marcus’s boss, Captain Howard, and is once again the sort of “scene stealer” whenever his character appears on-screen, with much credited to Pantoliano’s creation of the character. As a side-note, actress Theresa Randle (The Hunt for Eagle One and Spawn) reprises her role of Marcus’s wife, Theresa Burnett.
Of the new characters that appear in the film, the ones that make the strongest impression is the inclusion of the AMMO team, a new division of the Miami Police department that is comprised of new millennial generation of police. Much like the film’s script promotes, AMMO represents that “new” approach to present day police work of playing by the rules and utilizing digital era technology to avoid unnecessary colleterial damage, which is a great and amusing foil to Mike and Marcus’s direct tactics of going in guns blazing. Leading the team is the character of Rita, who has a special relationship with Mike Lowery and who is played by actress Paola Nunez (The Son and The Purge). The other members of AMMO, including actor Charles Melton (Riverdale and The Sun is Also a Star) as hothead / hotshot Rafe, actress Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical and Bandslam) as cool under pressure Kelly, and actor Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games and Vikings) as muscle bound tech wiz Dorn, have certainly make a fun inclusion in the film’s story, especially going up against the characters of Mike and Marcus’s seasoned detective work in a sort of “old meets new” of the police work. Plus, the introduction of AMMO certainly leaves the door open for the group to return in another Bad Boys movie or in a possible spin-off feature. Personally, I would like to see this happen. The AMMO team was likeable and could easily hold their own in their own personal standalone feature (a sort of Hobbs & Shaw type of endeavor in the Bad Boys universe) as the solo movie could flesh out their respective characters. So, will there be an AMMO film (i.e. AMMO: A Bad Boys Story) or have them be included in a possible Bad Boys 4. It’s hard to say, but it’s a welcomed one…to me at least.
In the antagonist role, Bad Boys for Life has two, with actress Kate del Castillo (The Book of Life and Under the Same Moon) as Isabel Aretas and actor Jacob Scipio (We Die Young and Bob the Builder) as her son, Armando Aretas. Both are of a different variety, with Scipio’s Armando being the more physical presence in the movie, while del Castillo’s Isabel having the more “behind the scenes” mastermind role. They both certainly compliment that whole “bad guy” action villain of the movie, but I kind of felt that both could’ve been easily expanded upon. What’s presented works and both their acting talents are perfectly fine in the portrayals, but both Aretas characters could’ve been fleshed out more to be more memorable antagonist, especially compared to the likes of the previous Bad Boys villains of Fouchet and Johnny Tapa.
The rest of the cast, including actor Massi Furlan (Jumanji: The Next Level and Aim High) as Lee Taglin, actor Rory Markham (Setup and Alex Cross) as Booker Grassie, musical artist Nicky Jam (XXX: The Return of Xander Cage and Nicky Jam: El Ganador) as Zway-Lo, actor Ivo Nandi (Boardwalk Empire and Sons of Anarchy) as Carver Remy, and musical artist DJ Khaled (Pitch Perfect 3 and Spies in Disguise) as Manny the Butcher, round out the rest of characters in the movie as minor supporting players. Most of these characters aren’t fully developed and mostly just have one or two scenes in the feature. None of them are “throwaway” or “underwhelming” in their respective roles…. it’s just very minor roles that are atypical in action movies, especially in the Bad Boys endeavors. So, I wasn’t disappointed in these limited roles (no harm, no foul).
Lastly, there are a few callbacks and small cameos from the previous Bad Boys, which are pretty funny to watch and, while I won’t spoil who or what they are, it definitely put a smile on my face and had me laughing out loud when they appeared.
We ride together, we die together” is the mantra staple between Miami Police Detectives Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett as their partnership is put up to another action life-threating series of events in the movie Bad Boys for Life. Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s latest film picks up the dynamic duo of characters seventeen years later from the previous installment, recapturing a lot of what the past two movies fun while standing upon its own merits as standalone entry in the series. While the movie has several problems, including a predictable and formulaic narrative progression and a few other limitations, the film still manages to settle into a fine and theatrical groove of high action thrills, comical beats, and pure movie escapism at its best, especially thanks to the film’s directors (creating fun spiritual successor to Bay’s features) as well as the film’s cast. Personally, I liked this movie. I still personally like the first two Bad Boys movie a bit more than this one as this threequel can’t outshine its predecessors, but it was still damn good fun and solid action entertainment within this franchise. Thus, my recommendation for this is an impressive “highly recommended” as I’m sure fans of the first two films will definitely wanna check it out as well as casual moviegoers who are looking for action escapism. The film’s ending leaves the possibility opened for a fourth installment (I would be happy to see a Bad Boys 4 materialize) as well as possible spin-off endeavor of the AMMO team (i.e. the “next” Bad Boys generations). Whatever may come in the future for this action film series, Bad Boys for Life is another successful entry in the franchise and is one of the better belated sequels that has Hollywood has produced in quite some time. The boys (Mike and Marcus) are back….and that’s a good thing.
4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: January 17th, 2020
Reviewed On: January 18th, 2020
Bad Boys for Life is 123 minutes long and is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, sexual references, and brief drug use