Written by Aaron Radcliff:
When you look at Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s filmographies, you’ll undoubtedly find far better and more memorable films than any of the Bad Boys movies. Ok, maybe not so for Lawrence. In spite of that, the first two films in the trilogy managed to carve out their own places in my memory. The first was an enjoyable but formulaic romp which saw both stars establish and cement their dynamic chemistry. The second, while an abhorrent assault of excess and grandeur, is still incredibly fun in a sleazy way that only Michael Bay could pull off (something which is amplified tenfold if you take the recommended approach and get absolutely blitzed before watching it). Plus it has one of my favorite car chases of all-time in it, so that’s a plus.
Then there’s the curious case of the trilogy’s finale, Bad Boys for Life.
It’s been almost 17 years since Bad Boys 2 and life has passed by our characters. Marcus (Lawrence) is ready to retire as a grandfather and Mike (Smith) still wants to kick ass and take names even though life is clearly trying to tell him otherwise. It feels like an apt comparison to the real lives faced by Smith and Lawrence. Smith, just like his character, has the love and respect of those around him and still packs power and charm, but he’s not the Fresh Prince anymore. Still, he tries to take the reigns and ride as hard as he can.
This was obviously never going to be the case for the film if it had been made back around 2008 like it was supposed to, but I appreciate that it’s a central focus throughout a large portion of the film. Unfortunately, that thread is axed around an hour in for a different path, one that ultimately leads to an early contender for Goofiest Plot Twist/Reveal of the Year, an amazing accomplishment considering how relatively straightforward everything already was. Not that any of the films in the trilogy have had anything remotely close to Christopher Nolan levels of plot structure. I should’ve known what it was leading to as I kept trying to recall certain people and things that weren’t being explored. We don’t need backstory on par with The Silmarillion, but it’d go a good way toward making things feel a bit more complete and competent.
Of course, Lawrence and Smith shine once again as the dynamic duo. They continue to have bulletproof chemistry thanks to Smith’s charm and Lawrence’s humor which manages to land most of the time and feels less problematic and in danger of aging poorly. However, the breakout stars of Bad Boys for Life are the members of the AMMO squad, a high-tech tactical group that Smith and Lawrence must begrudgingly partner with on their latest exploit. The groups interactions bring a lot of chemistry and laughs and I found myself wanting more of them. Hell, I’d be ok with a spin-off entirely focused on AMMO if it meant seeing more of Vanessa Hudgens as a smiling badass, Charles Melton as an abrasive prick, and Alexander Ludwig as a buff tech wizard with emotional issues.
Ultimately, I think that’s a signal of what failed to make Bad Boys for Life really work as well as the other two. It presents several things but never takes them to the limit. You never want to run the risk of pushing something too far, but there’s an equal danger in not going far enough. We start getting a deeper look into the mindest of our characters and their histories, but that only comes in snippets. We get humorous moments, but not as many as in the prior films. We get action that, while not as bombastic as what Michael Bay brought, feels a bit hollow (but more brutal).
That’s the problem with trying to make something like Bad Boys for Life after such a long wait. The world of our characters as well as the audience has changed drastically in that time. We’re more jaded and cynical and thus expect our characters to be so as well or to be so opposite that it feels like an escape to a new world. Bad Boys for Life tries to have its cake and eat it too by giving us these mature snippets cut between comedy and a younger man’s action. It’s difficult to try and toe that line after so long. Go too hard and you can’t buy into these guys getting into those kinds of hijinks anymore. Conversely, you can’t make it as mature as it should be with its central theme because it clashes with everything else and would be tonally inconsistent.
I’m making it sound like it’s a bad movie. It’s not. It’s certainly not perfect and has flaws, but it’s the best of the trilogy. The story, unnecessary reveal and all, is fine. The action is good, the cast has strong chemistry together, the humor works, and there are a couple scenes that actually manage to pack an emotional punch. However, it’s not my favorite. It takes the steps necessary to be enjoyable with an edge without stepping on too many toes. Yet after two prior films that didn’t shy away from pushing things to the limit and beyond, the more subdued (or subdued by Bad Boys standards) attempt just feels incomplete and a bit incompatible with what we’ve had.
I guess the best way to describe would be to call it Fast & Furious Lite. It’s smarter, funnier, and more engaging that any offering from the mammoth franchise, but there’s a reason why we’ll continue to remember all of the over-the-top stunts instead of anything from Bad Boys for Life.
Score: 6 out of 10
Images via Sony Pictures Releasing