‘Bad Boys for Life’ Review: Aging into a Solid ‘Fast & Furious’ Spin-Off

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys for Life (Columbia Pictures, 2020)
Columbia Pictures

Believe it or not, it’s been 17 years since Bad Boys II (2003) and a whopping 25 years since the franchise launched with Bad Boys, all the way back in 1995. If that’s not depressing enough, get this: Will Smith is 51. Martin Lawrence is — wait for it, wait for it — 54.

The following isn’t a sleight. I have a notoriously bad memory. But all I remember about the original Bad Boys is Martin Lawrence saying “Mike Lowrey” over and over again.

All I remember about Bad Boys II is hating it. Now I kind of want to see it again, though.

So after 25 years the Bad Boys are back. Will Smith’s Mike Lowery is still slick, reckless, single, and wealthy. Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett is still his ever-loyal, somewhat timid sidekick. Vanessa Hudgens returns as Marcus’s wife, and I am most thankful of all that Joe Pantoliano is back as the Captain Howard.

Oh, and Michael Bay is back. Not to finish off his trilogy as director, but in a quick cameo.

The directors here are Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, or as they prefer to be called: Arbi and Fallah. The duo does an able job aping Bays signature camera swoops. There’s even a glorious moment of shameless female objectification. And what a female!

God, I miss T&A.

The premise is a sound one. Well, there are actually two premises. The first is the overall story. That’s about a drug kingpin from Mike’s past seeking revenge one assassination at a time. The second one, though, is what really makes the movie work…

The middle age of our protagonists is acknowledged. The passage of time is acknowledged. And what you have is one partner who doesn’t want to acknowledge that fact and another all too ready to move on to the third act of his life.

Mike still looks like Mike. Marcus, though, looks like he ate Marcus. He’s chunky now, and a grandfather, and needs glasses, and is tired of running and gunning. All he wants from life is a recliner and grandbaby on his lap.

Yes, the movie is still silly and overblown, and the banter between Mike and Marcus is still silly and overblown. But the tension this brings to their relationship delivers some great scenes and moments. It is also not resolved easily, which lifts the story above the usual-usual CGI’d mayhem. You like these guys. You care about them. This keeps the action from becoming numbing.

Another change worthy of note is that Bad Boys for Life really is a Fast & Furious spin-off. Not an official one. Sony owns Bad Boys. Universal owns Fast & Furious. But that’s what’s happening here. It’s not just Mike and Marcus anymore. They have been teamed with AMMO, which stands for something-something-something-cool, and this new team checks off all the appropriate multi-cultural boxes. A post-credit scene promises a Bad Boys 4, which should just be titled Furious Bad & Fast Boys.

This isn’t a complaint, mind you. It kind of works. And I’ll look at Paola Núñez in a tight dress all day long. And this is probably where the franchise needs to evolve, otherwise it risks becoming a nostalgia-fest where we only show up to hear the theme song and to see if age ever catches up to Will Smith.

And that’s another thing…

It sure is good to see Will Smith back in form. Other than Suicide Squad (2016) and Men in Black 3 (2012) — both under-appreciated — his career went sideways for a long decade. He’s pure movie star. We need Will Smith. America needs Will Smith. I need Will Smith. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long, overdue resurgence.

Lawrence is also great. Especially in the early scenes where he’s torn between retirement, his Christian faith (which is treated seriously), and loyalty to his partner.

While I didn’t much care for the overblown climax, Bad Boys for Life is what makes movies great: sex, violence, a few laughs, legitimate movie stars, and a sense of humanity. 

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.

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