Bad Boys For Life
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Kate del Castillo, Vanessa Hudgens, Joe Pantoliano, Jacob Scipio, Paola Nunez, DJ Khaled
Running Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Rating: R (for strong, bloody violence, language throughout, sexual references and brief drug use)
(*** out of 4)
Bad Boys For Life is a satisfying blend of thoughtful coming-of- (middle) age comedy and vengeance-based action that makes for an enjoyable movie experience.
Having been partners for 24 years now, officers Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are still crimefighting on the streets, but facing realities of life beyond the police force.
Marcus is a new grandpa surrounded by family, while Mike, with few ties other than partner Marcus, is neither happy nor unhappy, but pondering somewhat where his life is headed.
They’re both, as Danny Glover says in the Lethal Weapon movies, getting a little too old for this stuff. Marcus needs his glasses and Mike may be coloring his hair a bit, but they still front by driving the fast cars and challenging each other to foot races that someone else speedwalking by would win.
It’s to the point that Marcus concedes to Father Time and is ready to retire from the game while he’s still alive and healthy enough to enjoy his family. Mike begrudges him that and prepares, through slight feelings of abandonment, to continue on doing what he does – being a cop.
But then things happen that change both of their focus. A ruthless drug cartel family whose business was crippled many years ago, suddenly finds itself in position to exact revenge on the law enforcement officials that brought them down.
Judges, prosecutors, informants all go on the hit list, and that includes Mike, one of the primary cops who busted the family’s operations.
As assassinations happen all around them, Mike and Marcus find their old-school hard-ass cop tactics aren’t enough to get to the bottom of what’s going on and are assigned to work with a high-tech unit of young officers who do it differently.
Whereas the Bad Boys bust down doors and whup heads for information, this elite tech team sends in drones and secretly records conversations. Similar results, less stress on the body.
The movie takes off when it’s revealed that Mike is far more involved with the cartel than just as an arresting officer and all the action that follows stems from this suddenly very personal situation. At that point, Bad Boys For Life’s story becomes compelling to watch.
As a comedy, most of the jokes are organic and arise appropriately from events happening at the time. Going undercover into a trendy nightclub to try to catch a suspect, the Boys find that they’re not the desired demo and are told to go to the back of the line to get in; they have to be rescued by the younger undercover cops who are able to usher them through.
That kind of humor happens enough to overcome the jokes-for-jokes’ sake thrown in to show, hey look, we’re wisecracking even as bullets fly all around us; ain’t we cool?
As for the action, this is a Jerry Bruckheimer film and he’s known for how often and how loud can we blow ‘em up/shoot ‘em up. Plenty of that here, to the point that multi-person shootouts become repetitive cartoon violence, but then there are several individuals who get offed in a, oh, damn! sorta fashion to make it interesting. There’s also the requisite vehicle chases involving cars, motorcycles, and helicopters that are all adrenalin-producing.
Maybe the best part of the movie is the acting by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. You can see just how much they’ve learned the craft since the first Bad Boys movie in 1995. They both have chops now.
Smith is close to poignant as he stares out and reflects on the things that have happened in his cop character’s life, almost as if he’s thinking about his own.
Lawrence hasn’t delivered a performance this measured, with this much clarity, in who knows when. Beset by many off-the-field issues for many years, it seems that he has a deeper appreciation for the business now that hopefully carries over into his future projects. They are both sadder and wiser and better as their characters and as the actors playing them.
Forever is the best of the three Bad Boys films so far – Bad Boys II was so terrible that all prints of it should be burned – and there may be room for another. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s well worth the anticipation and hype that surrounds it.