Back in 1995, it was perfectly acceptable to make a film like Bad Boys. Before the first film came out, buddy cop movies looked like Lethal Weapon, Will Smith was only famous for The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, and Michael Bay was directing Meatloaf videos instead of blockbusters. Taking the ’80s action movie tropes and pushing them through an MTV filter in slow, slow-motion, the first film made waves big enough to change the way Hollywood blew shit up. Then came Bad Boys II.
However fondly you might think you remember it, Bay’s coked-up 2003 remix of his feature debut is a tough watch today. Shot like a teenage up-skirter, the film was a heady mix of racist, sexist, ugly action – with one eye-widening scene seeing Smith drool over the boobs of a dead girl. Fast-forward to 2020 and the idea of resurrecting a franchise that only middle-aged superfans were asking for seems risky, to say the least. Simply put, you can’t make a Bad Boys movie today without making it a lot less… bad.
Thankfully, Belgian directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have found a way to make a fun sequel that feels like the originals without porting over too much of their wrinkly toxicity. It’s baggy, dumb and kind of pointless – but Bad Boys For Life is easily the best movie in the trilogy.
The key was probably in ditching Bay. The king of slow-mo pops up in a brief cameo (as a wedding MC, for some odd reason) but Arbi and Fallah do a much better job than he ever managed by making a movie that’s more than just a load of bums and guns. In fact, Bad Boys For Life is at its best when it’s gently poking fun at Bay’s style – swapping a fetishised Porsche gear stick for the lever of a reclining armchair as the Boys settle uncomfortably into old age together.
Not that this is all boomer jokes and ’90s throwbacks. Not too much has changed since we last met Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Martin Lawrence). They’re both still cops, and both still enjoying a sweet banter-y bromance as they take down waves of faceless Miami goons. When we catch up with them again, Marcus has just become a granddad, and Mike is struggling to connect with the millennials on the force (including Vanessa Hudgens) – with retirement looming large over both of their careers.
Looming even larger, though, is the mother and son of a Mexican cartel leader they gunned down years ago – vowing revenge on everyone they both know, and coming after Mike in a gnarly drive-by shooting. From here on out, the plot doesn’t really matter. Things get mean (DJ Khaled’s cameo is basically just there so we can see Smith hit him with a meat tenderiser) before they get daft (this one has witches in it…), and the film moves far too sluggishly for its own good at times, but its explosive set-pieces are fun enough to feel like a real crowning glory for the series – hitting the kind of old-fashioned buddy-cop highs that Bay was probably aiming for in the first one.
Smith is Smith, Lawrence is Lawrence, and they both look really cool when they shoot people, which is exactly what you want out of a Bad Boys movie. Unless, of course, you want a load of rampant misogyny as well, in which case, go watch Bad Boys II again.
- Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah
- Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens
- Release date: 17 January 2020