I’m supposed to talk about Bad Boys for Life, and we’ll get there.
It’s not a good movie, not by the standards set by its (first) precursor, films generally nor Michael Bay himself who here returns but for a cameo.
Helmed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who like us can’t quite believe it, this is the poorest imitation of what came before. Begrudgingly acknowledged by critics as a great romp, the very underrated Bad Boys is one of the best pieces of 90s action cinema (furthermore in respect of its paltry 23 million dollar budget) and to date still Michael Bay’s first and best film.
Consigned to realising a grander vision with less than a third of what he would be proffered for his next feature (The Rock), the famous foot chase remains emblematic of what Bay would become. Limited to a few blocks and very practical obstacles absent explosions and special effects, it’s a thrilling sequence dependent on his signature brazen camerawork and kinetic energy evidenced from Will Smith and (then) leading man Martin Lawrence, at the time a bigger box office draw.
Bay, a filmmaker in the vein of George Lucas, later allowed the lavishes of blank-cheque spectacle and the scale of fireworks he could set off frame by frame only because of his earlier successes to detract from stories better realised by allowing two or more able performers to butt heads in a shot sans overly intrusive and never near so compelling distractions.
There’s a reason the original Mario Kart is still the most popular. Players, a couple of sharp turns and a few well-placed objects to throw at them involves us more than same with an egregiously overstuffed environment to boot.
There is nothing as exciting or creative in either Bad Boys follow-up as the low angle-tilted far-flung shot of bad guys running down a stark-white photo studio corridor towards us or a slow pan up to Mike Lowrey, shirt ablaze, running to save Marcus, nor the now iconic 270-degree inward pan as our heroes rise; first establishing Smith as a star beyond the streets of Bel Air.
There too remains a freshness to the first Bad Boys missing from its contemporaries and likewise films today. Call Bay regressive if you want, but in 1995 he cast two African-American actors in lead roles without causing the film to so much remark on it and alongside Smith a female lead (Tea Leoni) who, contrary to still dominant and frustrating trends, was her male co-star’s elder.
Bad Boys II was never nearly so enjoyable for heedlessly leaping between mind-numbingly similar sequences which turned relatable heroes who never went much further than jumping onto a moving car into here bulletproof objects lumbering from one disaffecting encounter to another. At least bearing a few memorable scenes, Bad Boys for Life continues very strongly in this vein, but with even fewer moments to affectionately behold.
Time’s moved on, Mike’s still doing his charming bachelor thing and Marcus is keen for retirement. Villains emerge with an attempt to mark them beyond the singularly dimensional antagonists of those preceding films. When the relevant revelation does come, delivered in one of the many bouts of grinding, frustrating exposition and/or moralising, it lands with a groaning thud; moreover so for those familiar with Smith’s curiously similar, very recent Gemini Man.
There’s one creatively distinct shot in the entire film when the camera leans into an off-kilter lowly view of a figure running; soon adjusting to the statically shot oeuvre which characterises this threequel. You can count on one hand the enjoyable moments in action sequences, including when those concerned vault off a club balcony, an episode in an apartment with a drug-fuelled accountant and a car pivoting off a truck.
Green screen blatantly pervades much of this effort with the main performers simply not showcasing the physical energy or thrills they once did. Such decision made, had the leads more greatly leaned into the pacing this could have worked better, as the film’s funniest sequence managed where Mike’s attempts to get back in on the action are contrasted with Marcus quite literally putting his feet up.
Having said this, there is a joy in the chemistry and in several exchanges between Smith and Lawrence who effortlessly and moreover charmingly reprise their clearly beloved roles. Recurring references to one of the duo dying their hair better speaks to the pair’s moving relationship than any regular piece of stilted, overly-familiar dialogue.
With yet another sequel on the way, there is very evidently an attempt being made to establish a Fast and Furious style universe and cavalcade of characters via a newly-arrived quartet, with the female leads’ (Paola Nunez and Vanessa Hudgens) characters never being nearly so developed as those of their male counterparts, played Alexander Ludwig (who is fairly very funny) and Charles Melton.
This film may very possibly be remembered for Melton, here graduating from Riverdale High, turning in a performance that might just be the early makings of a not insignificant star. Joe Pantoliano is also back for more of the same, as is the unnecessarily remixed yet still exceptional series score. To this point, there near emerges nothing so exciting herein as those opening seconds when ‘Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ flashes onto the screen in that familiar typeface.
The third instalment not making a sequel look promising, one would be better off jumping back 25 years and revisiting the original.
Bad Boys for Life is in cinemas now