"Bad Boys for Life": Precisely What You Expect, for Good and for Ill

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Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, reprising their roles as Murtaugh and Riggs Tango and Cash Burnett and Lowery.

As someone with an unabashed, irony-free love for a lot of irredeemable cinematic garbage, I’m not about to throw too much shade on movie junk food. That said, it’s a fair bet you won’t find a more heaping plate of greasy, carb-laden action-film snacking than Bad Boys for Life

The third installment in the Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay buddy-cop franchise is, like its two predecessors, critically bulletproof. It’s big, explode-y, fast-moving, stacked with one-liners, and sure to be devoured by its sizable built-in audience as eagerly as that sack of store-brand potato chips beckoning from the cupboard.

Things pick up with Miami cops Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) finding their partnership–and their lives–in flux. The recent birth of his grandchild has sent Burnett into a reflective head space regarding the retirement that he’s long threatened. Supercop Lowery, meantime, carries on in vigorous denial of his middle age; at least until he’s almost assassinated by, and several lawyers and judges in town begin to get taken out by, Armando (Jacob Scipio), the vengeance-fueled son of coldly malevolent crime boss Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo).

Along the way Lowery ends up reluctantly allying with AMMO, the tactical special-forces team charged with getting to the bottom of the spate of executions. Burnett makes good on retiring. Lots of people get shot. Cars, buildings, helicopters, boats, and people blow up really damned good. And Lowery and Burnett exchange one-liners like the veteran one-liner exchangers that they are. That’s pretty much it, as far as setup goes.

It’s all executed with technical snap and polish. Adil (el Arbi) and Billal (Fallah), Bad Boys for Life’s directorial duo, only have two Belgian action features under their collective belt, but they’ve definitely got the goods as orchestrators of onscreen thrill-centric setpieces. The abundant shootouts are stimulating mashups of Miami Vice neon colors and John Woo slow-mo. One particular chase sequence involving a motorcycle and its sidecar is sure to make your jaw drop, and the final showdown between good guys and heavies incorporates a nifty cathedral-burning, a plummeting helicopter, and enough flying bullets to stretch end-to-end from here to the sun.

It’d also take a proclamation from the Mayor of Grouchville to deny the charms of much of the cast. After several high-profile flops of uniform lousiness (After Earth or Gemini Man, anyone? Thought not), Will Smith’s rediscovered his mojo as a screen idol, and Lawrence remains an amusing foil. It’s a joy to see character actor Joe Pantoliano in full-on cranky-boss mode (though I coulda used more of him), and the largely new faces comprising the co-ed AMMO team are uniformly pretty and engaging presences onscreen.

Most of Bad Boys for Life‘s liabilities fall into the ‘well, duh, and you’re surprised, why?’ camp. It’s pointless to grouse about the script being threadbare enough to fit on three sheets of two-ply toilet paper; about a fair amount of the jokes falling flat on their proverbial faces; or that character development and exposition beats never last more than one hot minute before we’re onto another car chase or shootout. It’s all part of the candy-coated, glowing-pastel, loud-and-explode-y game.  

If there’s one legit (and from this corner, sorta surprising) gripe I’ve got, it’s the rather toothless, generic nature of it all this time out–despite the wall-to-wall violence. The first two Bad Boys movies levelled their knuckleheaded gags at everyone from African-Americans to Latinos to LGBTQ folks to women with zero-f*#ks misanthropic vigor and equanimity. Little of that reckless spirit exists here.

Then again, even a generic, less-flavorful bag of greasy store-brand potato chips, washed down with a can of refreshing store-brand soda, has its place in the world. To quote the song that’s served as the franchise’s theme song through three movies, whatcha gonna do? 

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