A temporary replacement for TMINE’s Orange Thursday feature in which I review a readily available movie you’ve probably already seen
It seems surprising in this day and age, when Michael Bay is a director best associated with astonishingly stupid, hardware-based, explosion-packed summer blockbusters with a serial killer’s attitude towards women, but there was a time when he was an enfant terrible ready to transform cinema with a unique kinetic visual style.
Similarly, Will Smith was not the action movie star he is today but was merely the Fresh Prince of Bel Air – a singer/comedian in baggy clothes with as much right to big pecs and a gun licence as Ant and Dec.
The thing that changed both their careers was Bad Boys (1995), a funny but also hugely exciting, genre-changing action-comedy directed by Bay, in which Smith and fellow comedian Martin Lawrence played Miami detectives.
The movie catapulted all three onto the Hollywood movie A-list. Lawrence then bounced straight off into some frankly terrible comedies, with not even the frankly terrible but successful Bad Boys II (2003) being able to redeem him.
Bay continued to do well right up until The Island (2005), which flopped horribly. Bay took away precisely the wrong lesson from its failure – no more intellectually interesting content (the first half), only smash-crash-brain dead content (the second half), for his films in the future. After that, there was no saving him as a director.
Smith’s career continued to be strong for longer, right up until 2013 when he made the mistake of starring with his son in After Earth. Since then, he’s had numerous flops, but his career has started to head back towards more stellar heights of late. And now he’s returned to where it started for him – the second sequel to Bad Bays, Bad Boys for Life (2019).
Lawrence is back, too, but you’ll be glad to hear that the only thing Michael Bay has to do with Bad Bays for Life is that he makes an acting cameo as a wedding announcer.
I’ll let you know if it’ll do anything for anyone’s career after the trailer and the jump.
Bad Boys for Life (2019)
The wife and son of a Mexican drug lord embark on a vengeful quest to kill all those involved in his trial and imprisonment – including Miami Detective Mike Lowrey.
When Mike gets wounded, he teams up with partner Marcus Burnett and AMMO – a special tactical squad – to bring the culprits to justice. But the old-school, wisecracking cops must soon learn to get along with their new elite counterparts if they are to take down the vicious cartel that threatens their lives.
Bad Boys for Life isn’t awful and it’s nowhere near as bad as the near-unwatchable Bad Boys II, but it’s not great. In fact, it’s frequently boring, because although Bay may really wish he was working for Playboy, he did at least have a visual auteur’s style when it comes to action scenes and while Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah aren’t half bad at imitating Bay, they aren’t the man himself.
The script isn’t too awful, but is effectively the Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) of the franchise. Smith, clocking like Gibson before him that he’s now too old to be a ‘bad boy’ and a bachelor any more, has to deal with the Jet Li of the piece – Jacob Scipio, a faster, deadlier, better dressed Mexican assassin who’s avenging his drug kingpin father at the behest of his mother (La Reina del Sur‘s Kate del Castillo) by killing everyone who helped put his deceased father in prison, including Smith. Meanwhile, family man Lawrence is doing a Danny Glover and long-ago decided he was too old for this sh*t, so is effectively punching his time card until his retirement and spa days beckon.
So strike 2: that means for the most part this is a buddy-buddy comedy in which the buddies are separated. That kind of works, since Lawrence was always the weakest link in the franchise, so it gives Smith more time to be a leading man, something for which he’s still eminently qualified. Indeed, the movie’s best bits are when Smith is off being Smith by himself.
Bad Boys III IV III
However, at the same time, this is a movie that was long delayed by Smith’s A-list status and matching salary, so it’s constantly doing a Blade III and looking for a spin-off franchise with younger, cheaper stars. Helping Smith in his quest for vengeance are an equally eminently tedious group of young cops, including High School Musical‘s Vanessa Hudgens and Vikings‘ Alexander Ludwig, and there’s a mid-credits coda that suggests another spin-off might be in the offing, too.
Bad Boys was both comedy and action movie, and while there is plenty of action, none of it especially engaging, in Bad Boys for Life, it’s actually a better comedy. Again, there’s more than a hint of the Lethal Weapon 4s here, since the best gags come from Lawrence and Smith ribbing each other because of their ages. The best gags are a running race right at the beginning and when Lawrence admits in the middle of a gunfight that he’s shooting badly because he’s old enough he now needs to wear glasses (“It’s like HD in here!” he says, once he’s put them on).
However, most of those gags are at Lawrence’s expense, whereas its the young cops who get to humorously take Smith down a notch or two, as they deploy drones, hack computers and show off new techniques to which he’s never been exposed – as well as getting them into night clubs Smith is no longer young, DJ or VIP enough to get them into. It’s nice to see Smith being able to acknowledge his own age here.
All the same, the main plot is as bad as any of its predecessors’, with the same distain for reality, physics, the law, characterisation and pretty much anything that gets in the way of a good CGI motorcycle chase.
And that’s without even discussing the ‘big twist’ and how utterly nonsensical it is outside of a telenovella (maybe that’s the whole point?). Indeed, given this is basically the second movie of Smith’s in a row that has had that twist, I’m beginning to wonder if Smith is openly reflecting on the mistake of After Earth, not just his own age.
If you’re a fan of the franchise (why?), you’ll be relieved that it’s no worse than Bad Boys II at least, and if you’re a fan of Smith, you’ll be happy to see him on form and not slumming it in another Suicide Squad (2016) or Bright (2017). It won’t do anything for him or the directors, let alone Martin Lawerence, but I don’t think it’ll do anything to harm them either.
Still, this is a movie best watched when you’ve nothing else to watch and it’s on free TV, not when you still have to pay for it.