Very early on in Bad Boys for Life, the third and long-delayed movie in the buddy cop series starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, the two partners are screaming through the streets of Miami in Mike Lowrey’s (Smith) Porsche, executing hairpin turns and avoiding crashes as only detectives in the movies can do. But it turns out they’re not running down the latest drug cartel; instead they’re racing to get to the hospital for the birth of Marcus Burnett’s (Lawrence) first grandchild.
That’s right, Marcus is a “pop-pop” now, and after 25 years of blowing up and shooting down most of Miami, he’s thinking about retiring. No such thoughts for Lowrey though, even if his partner is tapping out and the commander (Paola Nunez) of an elite new squad called AMMO has eyes on recruiting him professionally despite a past try at romance not working out. Lowrey is ready to ride until he dies–and that moment suddenly seems a lot closer when an assassin (Jacob Scipio) starts picking off law enforcement officials associated with an old case.
As Lowrey becomes the next target for assassination, the escalating incidents and action suggest Bad Boys for Life has a little more heft than one might expect (especially after 2003’s soulless Bad Boys 2). Suddenly, dying seems real, even for bad boys, and a shocking twist midway through the movie seems to raise the stakes for at least a moment.
But alas, it’s then back to the mayhem–absent the signature Michael Bay indulgences to nastiness that could’ve made this a true trilogy of “Bayhem.” The new directors at the helm, Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (who are credited as “Adil & Bilall”) pull back just a bit from the aggressively tasteless, grisly excess of Bad Boys 2. But only a little. “Violence is what we do,” says Lowrey, dismissing the Buddhist (!) lesson given to him by the always shouting Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) just a few scenes earlier.
Instead “family” is the recurring theme pasted onto Lowery and Marcus’ relationship, just like it’s been at the center of almost every action thriller in the wake of the Fast and Furious franchise nearly trademarking the damn idea. It’s also ironic that the more an action tentpole deploys the “family” theme, the bigger the explosions and the guns are. You can never go too far for your family, these movies seem to say, even if you take down half a city to protect them.
There really isn’t a whole lot to like in Bad Boys for Life, family values notwithstanding. Yes, Smith and Lawrence still have same effortless chemistry that fired up the box office for the first two entries, even if the idea of two grown men and supposedly professional police officers arguing with each other in the middle of a firefight or high speed pursuit grows tiresome after the third or fourth time. And yes, Adil & Bilall do manage to stage their action with more coherency than Bay ever bothered with, delivering a gritty rooftop fistfight in one sequence and a truly showstopping vehicular pursuit in the other, the latter featuring helicopters, vans, motorcycles and a sidecar.
But by the time we get to yet another crash-and-burn confrontation involving another helicopter, prompting Burnett to ask, “Where do they get all the helicopters?” it’s a question an exhausted viewer might find themselves asking as well. The movie is not quite as bloated as Bad Boys 2 (which clocked in at 147 minutes) but it still feels long, especially when it halts the action for yet another exposition dump or some repartee from the boys.
Smith and Lawrence carry most of the film on their shoulders; the former is his usual charming self, even as he tries to put a little darkness into the character, while the latter just is just mostly irritating. It’s good to see Pantoliano back again, even if he’s perpetually yelling or swigging from a bottle of antacid, but none of the new team members–AMMO is like Miami PD’s version of the Avengers, because why not — make a lasting impression.
The plot may be a bit more streamlined, but the villain’s machinations are still drawn out for no good reason and we’re still given lots of montages of either gleaming Miami streets or rundown Mexico City colonias (yes, a Mexican drug network is once again the nemesis of choice in a Hollywood film) to fill out a few minutes here and there.
I wouldn’t say I actively hated Bad Boys for Life, but I was numbed and worn out by it. Even if the whole retirement thing ends up being for naught and the boys come back for another movie (something strongly hinted at in a Marvel-like mid-credits sequence), life is just too short to keep spending chunks of it with this empty if occasionally crowdpleasing series.
Bad Boys for Life is out in theaters this Friday, Jan. 17.
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Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye