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Review: Bad Boys For Life

Bad Boys For Life
7 10

Just over sixteen years is a very long time to go to pick back up the story of two destruction-prone cops, especially if all they’re going to do is once again cause millions in property damage and look sweaty doing it. With that in mind, it’s easy to go into the long-in-the-works third BAD BOYS movie – BAD BOYS FOR LIFE – thinking there will be little to warrant its existence other than to lean back on old habits for only the most passionate fans. However, what’s most surprising and rewarding about BAD BOYS FOR LIFE is how well it justifies bringing these characters back almost two decades after their last chaos-filled outing, incorporating fresh vision into the slick style and carnage longtime fans love and evolving and examining the titular Bad Boys in ways that honor their legacy.

Okay, scratch what I just said. What’s even more remarkable than the blend of makeover and homage BAD BOYS 3 manages to pull off is the fact that after all these years – playing the characters for only the third time over 25 years – is how seamlessly stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence leap back into the roles of Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett. Opening with Lowery bobbing and weaving his way through Miami streets at 100 mph in a sleek blue sports car, Burnett panicking in the passenger seat, the banter and dichotomy of the former’s adrenaline-seeking persona and the latter’s more cautious approach feel instantly natural. Not missing a beat, the two bounce jokes off one another as if they’ve been joined at the hip the whole time they’ve been away from the big screen.

As instantly familiar and welcome as the dynamic of the two perfectly-matched leads is, so too is how obvious the switch in the filmmaking approach is. While Michael Bay kicked off his bombastic feature film career with the first outing and then perfecting the term “Bayhem” with the sequel years later, the duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (stylized “Adil and Bilall” in the credits) take the reins. Going full tilt with the opening car sequence, the two certainly show off a knack for kinetic, crazy action. But even though Bay set the tone and style for what audiences can expect, the duo makes that style their own, toning things down while doubling down on a new sense of energy that makes for a totally new experience for the series. Don’t expect everything from gunfights to conversations to fly by at 100 miles-an-hour, as the duo make the best of the script by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan by giving the characters room to breathe and for the actors to flesh them out with more intimacy and depth than the past movies. Hell, even Joe Pantoliano’s welcome return as Captain Howard gets a chance to do some serious work… when he isn’t grilling Mike about shooting something up. Buoying it all, intricate lighting lends a refined, neon-soaked style to much of the film – recalling the look of the JOHN WICK movies – with softer rays of bright light emphasizing some unexpected character drama. Some may miss the intense, visceral look of Bay's movies, but the series has never looked cooler than it does here. 

While previous movies tried to make everything look crisp and over-the-top (to admittedly awesome effect), this one takes longer time to develop the two men at the core – giving them weightier material to work with. While Marcus has always been more of a voice of reason, opting to stay away from violence as much as possible, this time he means it. His retirement comes not long after Lowrey is shot in an attempted murder – deepening his ego, rage and a newfound sense of embarrassment. Giving the best performances of the three films, both Smith and Lawrence tap into more vulnerable sides of their characters, with Smith, in particular, letting deep insecurities bubble past his guarded, cool demeanor. While his blockbuster work has been rocky the past few years, BAD BOYS makes excellent use as Smith’s range as an actor, and you walk in expecting to see some of the best work he’s done in a decade.

The story the two are thrown into doesn’t go far beyond what you would expect in any other cop thriller, with Mexican gangsters hunting down Mike in revenge for something he did years ago. To go too far into it would give away the mystery as to why he’s being hunted, but at the forefront of it are Jacob Scipio’s Armando Armas and Kate del Castillo’s Isabel Armas, a mother and son crime team who want Mike dead. Armando is the more gung-ho of the two, while Isabel is the brains in the shadow. She also happens to be a witch of some sort, which is way too silly even if it were something in BAD BOYS II. Her aim is to make Mike suffer, a particular drive that dominates most of her dialogue, but in what ways she intends to do that remains unclear for much of the movie. She doesn’t often think to go for those closest to him, and she doesn’t have much to do besides rein in her blood-thirsty son, on top of seemingly practicing the occasional dark arts. That latter bit is simply too ridiculous compared to the rest of the movie, on top of unnecessary, and if anything feels culturally insensitive for a movie that’s actually trying to take the series forward.

Another element that might feel a step in the same place is the overall arc of Marcus. As you could probably tell from the last paragraph, this certainly feels like Mike’s journey to go on. Marcus has his own motivations and ideology, but it doesn’t often go beyond what we saw in past movies, like adopting a more pacifist approach. He gets to act on his beliefs in more meaningful ways than before, and even pass some knowledge onto Mike. But in the end, he decides to ride or die after all and jump into the fray, killing and killing as a Bad Boy does. Here’s a man with a family, his reasoning for giving it all up, but we never get a good sense of his home life or how he struggles to come to terms with helping his friend. It’s a missed opportunity to go even deeper with the character – even though this one does do miles further than the past two.

But of course, this is a BAD BOYS movie, and aside from the improved character development and the directing style that favors it, shit has got to blow up and it has to quite a bit. While the carnage and blood are vastly toned down from the past Bay movies, there’s still more than enough exhilarating action and violence to appease any wanting action fan. Just like with the character moments, the directing duo gives more room for the action to breathe, once or twice featuring extended shots and interesting framing techniques to put their own stamp on the BAD BOYS formula. The humor is seamlessly laced in as well, with not a moment of fun lost in the carnage. Everything simply feels cleaner, comes off more natural and looks slicker than before. Some of the action seems reliant on noticeable and sometimes wonky green screen that can cheapen certain sequences, but otherwise, the action is as kinetic as action-craving heart desires. In fact, the investment in building the characters is so good that when the duo finally gets back into action – featuring a rotating, circular shot that hints that shit is about to get real – it feels earned and rewarding, and not just action for the sake of it.

Alongside the duo are several new characters, played by Alexander Ludwig, Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, and Paola Nunez, and it’s laid on pretty thick an ensemble is about to form that will pay off in future movies – much like the FAST AND FURIOUS saga. I don’t think this is quite where the series should go, but everyone is strong enough in their roles to add something fresh to the series, with Ludwig stealing the show as a very buff but even more sensitive member of the team. The world of BAD BOYS isn’t done just yet it seems, and while having doubts about that would have been warranted not long ago, this third outing proves the Bad Boys are back in badass fashion and better than ever. I don’t know if we need them back for life in a new, massive franchise, but for now, their return is more than welcome.

Source: JoBlo.com

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