Bad Boys for Life (2020) Review

17 years wait for a sequel is undoubtedly a long time. And that sequel in question is the long-gestating third Bad Boys movie, which has been struggling to get off the ground for years plagued by constant delays and scheduling conflicts. At one point, Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team director Joe Carnahan was set to take over the franchise from Michael Bay but chose to back out, even though he retained his credit as one of the screenwriters.

Taking in charge of Bad Boys III — officially titled as Bad Boys for Life — is the Belgian directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (credited as Adil and Bilall), who clearly studied Michael Bay’s filmography and even go as far as emulating the Bayhem filmmaking style. This includes everything from the sun-baked landscape to rapid-fire cuts and the swirling camera angles. The plot — credited to Joe Carnahan, Chris Bremner and Peter Craig — eschews the first two movie’s storyline about busting drug dealers and settle for the revenge angle. One that involves the mother-and-son duo (Kate del Castillo’s Isabel Aretas and Jacob Scipio’s Armando Armas) who have a personal grudge against Detective Mike Lowrey (Will Smith).

But likewise in a Bad Boys movie, the main storyline is more of a placeholder. What matters the most is the bickering interactions between Will Smith’s Detective Mike Lowrey and Martin Lawrence’s Detective Marcus Burnett, with the latter finally had enough and heading for retirement. It’s nice to see them pair each other again as two mismatched cops and their chemistry has the lived-in quality to it.

Now, at the hands of a lesser director, Bad Boys for Life could have easily settled for a pure nostalgia ride for a nostalgia’s sake. The kind that sticks closely to the same old buddy-cop action-comedy formula with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence go all guns blazing and be done with it. This is what I initially expected from this movie but it turns out to be different than I thought. Don’t get me wrong. The third movie does retain all the pyrotechnics and stunt work as well as the obligatory car chases (the one involved a motorcycle and a sidecar comes in mind), explosions and shootouts. Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah still played by the rulebook of how a buddy-cop action-comedy film should be. Right down to the point it feels like I’m revisiting the 90s era all over again. And it’s not a bad thing since the Belgian directing duo manages to pull off quite a feat executing the action sequences, even though they clearly aren’t as slick as Michael Bay.

Then comes the interesting part. Something that didn’t cross my mind they would do that in a Bad Boys movie. Realising that both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence already hitting in their 50s, it’s evident they are past their primes. They are noticeably slower and not as energetic as they did in the first two movies. Which is perfectly understandable and they made good use of the two stars’ ageing factor to deal with unexpected themes of mortality and growing old. Sure, we have seen this before in the Lethal Weapon movies right down to Martin Lawrence’s “I’m too old for this shit”-like Danny Glover’s role of Roger Murtaugh that mirrored his Marcus Burnett character. And yet, the Belgian directing duo alongside the three screenwriters did a great job incorporating these themes to the otherwise loud and colourful sequel.

Cast-wise, Will Smith looks ageless for a guy who’s already in 51 years old while his usual devil-may-care charisma still remains intact. The long-missed Martin Lawrence, looking more puffed-up than ever, still has the same comedy edge even after all these years of laying low. Other recurring characters include Joe Pantoliano’s stressed-out Captain Conrad Howard and Theresa Randle’s Theresa Burnett manages to pull off their otherwise limited supporting roles well enough. Franchise newcomers including Paola Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig and Charles Melton — all of which appeared as the new elite police squad nicknamed AMMO — are welcome additions, as they bring in some necessary fresh energy to the third Bad Boys movie.

Of course, not everything in Bad Boys for Life really works. Some scenes tend to look shockingly cheap as if they are shot in a home-video format. This is particularly evident in the outdoor scene during the daylight where Will Smith’s Mike Lowrey engages in a fistfight against a helmet-wearing assailant. Other scenes, where it takes place in the dimly-lit or nighttime setting, can be visually incomprehensible due to the lightning-quick edits. Then, there’s the unexpected twist in this sequel, which feels somewhat out of place.

Despite some of the shortcomings, Bad Boys for Life remains a better-than-expected sequel that manages to redeem itself over the bloated and soulless, though technically better Bad Boys II (2003). Finally, look out for a surprise cameo and do remember to stick around for the mid-credits scene, which looks as if the Bad Boys franchise is far from over. Personally, I’m not sure about the fourth Bad Boys movie is a good idea, especially given the fact the third film keeps reminding us with the recurring dialogue of “one last time”.