Ask the horse.
The synopsis started with “two hip detectives” back in 1995 after Bad Boys switched gears from being a Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey vehicle to the Michael Bay action extravaganza we know it as starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It took eight years for “hip” to turn to “loose-cannon narcotics cops” as Bad Boys II brought Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett respectively back to the big screen with even more car chases and shootouts to earn the adjective. Both films were entertainingly mindless fun with the sequel moving from youthful exuberance to rocky roads as these partners’ disparate personas began to drift apart. When all was said and done, however, blood-boiling revenge put their ride-or-die brotherhood front and center. Nothing could ever separate these cowboys.
It’s 2020 now, though. Those young bucks are suddenly in their mid-fifties and still cracking jokes with guns in-hand. Marcus realizes father time’s effect with a few extra pounds and a grandson about to be born while Mike refuses to give up the bachelor lifestyle he simply cannot lead in the same way he had two decades ago. Where the gift of new life puts one’s perspective of mortality firmly in sight, the other has yet to remove the chip from his shoulder to acknowledge his own. And when Mike gets a rude awakening that reveals his nickname “Bulletproof” was always hyperbole, both lean harder towards their divergent ways. Marcus wants to retire while he’s still alive. Mike wants one last ride to earn payback because he’s alive.
That leads us to Bad Boys for Life (yes, they squandered the perfect title for an already planned fourth installment). Bay is gone (save a brief on-screen cameo), but Black (a fantastic Belgium crime drama) directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are more than up to the task where paying homage to his style is concerned. Thanks to a script from Joe Carnahan, Peter Craig, and Chris Bremner, however, this duo is provided a bit more in the way of authentic emotional impact than this franchise has ever seen before too. Not only does it take the seventeen-year gap between sequels seriously as far as the existential crisis toxic masculinity experiences in response to aging, they add some familial consequences as well. It’s time to finally grow-up.
The best way to show this (and keep the laughs coming, clichéd or not) is by introducing some young blood to the equation via Captain Howard’s (Joe Pantoliano) newly created AMMO squad as led by Mike’s ex-girlfriend Rita (Paola Nuñez). With her are Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), Rafe (Charles Melton), and Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens, whose inclusions earns a High School Musical joke) as the special-ops team tasked with finding an elusive shooter (Jacob Scipio‘s ruthless Armando Armas) working under the orders of his recently escaped-from-prison mother Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo). Mike is on this target’s expansive hit list and he’ll stop at nothing to take him down. Marcus retiring won’t stop him. Rita being in command won’t. Mike’s own carelessness in putting friends in Armando’s crosshairs won’t either.
So we watch hubris put him in trouble and self-pitying recklessness pull Marcus back in as their paths repeatedly intersect with this deadly assassin and his yet to be realized motives. Howard risks a heart attack every time Mike ignores the rules and Rita becomes stuck between wanting to help a man she still cares about while also keeping the job she literally just earned. There’s plenty of old school versus new school shade whether from “momma” jokes or situational table turns, but most of it does land with the comedic flair we’ve come to enjoy from the series. A few conveniently placed “surprise” connections may increase emotions to add enough drama to insulate Smith and Lawrence from too much action, but it also allows them to act.
And that’s where this entry stands apart. The two previous rides never cared about Mike and Marcus as more than two halves of a buddy cop comedy whole destined for one-liners and explosions. Here they’re forced to confront their legacies, shortcomings, and mistakes of which they’ve made more than a few. Rather than simply letting them do stupid things unscathed, they must face the stakes luck had thus far shielded them from. Are those stakes real? No. Announcing a new film is in the works during opening weekend kind of prevents that even if the score and script still half-heartedly hope we’ll believe impossible events have occurred. Mike and Marcus’ pain is therefore felt on the inside. Do they have the mettle to overcome their regrets?
Presenting that question is the only way diving back in works since it’s been too long to care about another round of shallow shenanigans. Asking us to accept the lead actors can move like they did in their youth is too much too (although that one hand-to-hand fight between Mike and Armando would have been better if it were shot slower with Smith than it is faster and so blatantly with a stunt double). We finally delve into who these guys are beyond machismo and some contrived complexity born from sticking a woman between them like when Mike dated Marcus’ sister (Gabrielle Union‘s Syd is mentioned, but not seen). Is it enough to reinvigorate the entire franchise? Probably not. But it was enough to make this chapter worthwhile.
 Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star in Columbia Pictures’ BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. PHOTO BY: Ben Rothstein © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
 Joe Pantoliano is Capt Howard in Columbia Pictures’ BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. PHOTO BY: Ben Rothstein © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
 Mike Lowrey (WILL SMITH), Marcus Burnett (MARTIN LAWRENCE) have each others backs in Columbia Pictures’ BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. PHOTO BY: Ben Rothstein © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.