Bad Boys for Life review – a fun throwback to dumb blockbusters

Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah take over from Michael Bay for this belated and surprisingly entertaining sequel

Given that his name has come to define a particular kind of high-octane, slightly incomprehensible action movie, who would have thought that “Bayhem” could work without Michael Bay? Having inherited the Bad Boys franchise from the explosive filmmaker, though, hotshot directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have, against all odds, managed to make belated third instalment Bad Boys for Life into a genuinely decent action film. It’s hardly going to win prizes for originality, but it’s still a lot more fun than most of the recent disastrous attempts to revive old franchises – a genuinely pleasant surprise to kick off a new decade of blockbusters.

It’s been 17 years since “shit just got real” (again) in Bad Boys II, and we’re reunited with Miami police detectives Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), who are feeling their age. Marcus, now a granddad with failing vision, is considering retirement. Mike, meanwhile, refuses to lean into the fact that he’s in his 50s and is still speeding through the city streets in a sports cars, riddling drug gangs with bullets, and dyeing his goatee to hide the grey. Of course, Marcus’s retirement plans are interrupted when a new gang leader named Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio) enters the scene and declares open war on all law enforcement.

The story is pretty standard fare, with our leads hunting down their new threat while making various “too old for this shit” jokes and Mike showing a particular resentment for the young cops they’ve been partnered with. Elevating this plot – and helping to push it through some dull, convoluted twists – is the real menace posed by Armando. Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan’s script does a great job of letting us know just how dangerous, vicious, and highly skilled this particular villain is, which keeps things consistently exciting. Arbi and Fallah prove themselves to be capable action directors, too, and though the music video-esque visuals mostly veer from OK to occasionally ugly, the shootouts and fight scenes are well choreographed and mostly rely on solid stunt work rather than quick cuts.

When they’re not busting heads and blowing things up, Smith and Lawrence retain their great comedic chemistry, and it’s never boring to be in their company. Not every joke lands, of course, and attempts at actual human drama come across as ridiculous, yet the dialogue mostly keeps things flowing at an entertaining clip – as long as no one’s talking about computers, at which point the whole thing starts collapsing in a heap of mumbo jumbo embarrassment. The new cops, headed up by Vanessa Hudgens’s gung-ho weapons expert Kelly, also make a solid impression, and everyone gets at least one memorable action moment.

But really this is Smith and Lawrence’s show from start to finish, and their fun, star-powered performances reaffirm why we got excited about these films in the first place. There’s a real throwback energy to everything in Bad Boys for Life (including the uncomfortable glee it takes in police brutality), and the film’s decision to avoid trying to be totally current makes it one of the more successful franchise updates in recent years.

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