'Bad Boys for Life ' Movie Review: A Lot Less Bayhem Makes a Passable Buddy Cop Actioner

Four Star Rating: **½
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paolo Nunez, Kate del Castillo, Nicky Jam, Joe Pantoliano
Director: Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah
Screenplay: Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan
Story By: Peter Craig & Joe Carnahan
Source Material: Based on Characters by George Gallo
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith, Doug Belgrad
Music by: Lorne Belfe
Cinematographer: Robrecht Heyyeart
Editor: Dan Lebental & Pete McNully
Production Company: Columbia Pictures, 2.0 Entertainment, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Overbrook Entertainment
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated: 14A (Ontario)/R (United States) - Graphic violence, coarse language, sexual references, drug use
Release Date: January 17, 2020
Run Time: 124 minutes

I am not a huge fan of the Bad Boys movies; I think the first was fine even though I barely remember it and I think the second is emblematic of Michael Bay's worst tendencies. They are movies that I've seen and have given almost no thought since that first viewing. Though when watching the third and newest in the series, Bad Boys for Life, I learned pretty quick there are many people who love these movies and remember the first two fondly. There was a scene early on when a character's name was mentioned, and the packed theatre gave several knowing chuckles over what may happen while the name didn't mean a single thing to me.

For many this is an action favourite, and therefore I am sure there are many who will love this picture. This is also the first in the series not to be directed by Michael Bay, but filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah crafted an action picture that feels like a toned down Bay that still contains the chaotic big explosion action, the big tough guy dialogue, scantily clad girls, a loud rocking soundtrack and cameras shooting from the ground up to the sky. But it feels like a much calmer and focused version of Bay, as the action sequences have longer cuts so you can follow it, there is a lot less mean-spirited comedy and it focuses much more on the bond of friendship rather than being cynical.

This time around we have a son and his mom out for revenge over the death of their drug kingpin father/husband, so they start targeting many cops and authority figures they hold responsible for his death. It just so happens that Will Smith's Detective Michael Lowrey is on the top of that hit list. The murder attempt fails because it wouldn't much of a buddy cop picture if it was successful in the first 30 minutes, which means Lowrey is now on his own revenge mission. The near tragedy causes Martin Lawrence's Detective Marcus Burnett to finally take the plunge into retirement, which causes some tension between the best friends. Of course, since this is still a buddy cop picture, you can guess how long Burnet stays off the force. It does allow Lowrey some time to work with a young hot shot team of cops that includes Vanessa Hudgens's Kelly and is lead by Lowrey's ex-girlfriend Rita Secada (played by Paola Nunez).

The movie follows your standard comedic buddy cop action picture, with the two leads playing off each other with one being the loose cannon type and the other being too old for this shit. The action pieces are giant spectacles with lots of vehicular damages and explosions, but there isn't really anything unforgettable in an era of big special effect mega-events. Lawrence and Smith have a great chemistry and Lawrence really digs into his role as the aged cop who feels he is over his head. The movie also tries to be about the importance of friendship and family, and Lowrey has an arc of a guy more focused on his job while slowly seeing the importance of relationships. Smith goes against his usual happy go-lucky character common in his other movies with a harder edged character, though the movie is about softening him up.

The best parts are Smith and Lawrence trading one-liners and riffing off each other. It tries to be this big over-the-top spectacle while also having this emotional and dramatic core. I don't think any characters ever feel grounded, so the dramatic moments tend to fall flat. The ending really falls apart with one character having unearned shift that conflicts with everything from before and so it lacks the emotional heft necessary to resonate.

Like I confessed, this has never really been a series that I've connected with, but I think Bad Boys fans will get everything they want here. I do think it turns out to be a perfectly fine buddy cop action picture during a time there isn't many big studio buddy cop action movies. It doesn't bring anything new to the subgenre, and after 90 minutes, I felt like I got my fill, but this runs a little over two hours. For fans, there is a stinger in the end-credits that promises that there will be another sequel on the way. I will say the series is now in much better hands with far less Bayhem.