Bad Boys: Ride or Die Directors on the Return of the ‘Best Duo in Cinema History’

Exclusive: Bad Boys: Ride or Die directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah talk about getting Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together on the big screen.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys 4
Photo: Sony Pictures

This article appears in the new issue of DEN OF GEEK magazine. You can read all of our magazine stories here.

When Bad Boys for Life came out in January 2020, it ended a 17-year wait for the third film in the franchise, which launched in 1995 with Bad Boys and continued in 2003 with Bad Boys II. It’s only taken a relatively brief four-plus years to get the latest entry in the series, Bad Boys: Ride or Die, to the screen—but it’s been a tumultuous stretch, to say the least.

“The hope is definitely that everything will be a little bit smoother from now on,” co-director Adil El Arbi, returning to the franchise with directing partner Bilall Fallah after taking over for Michael Bay on the third film, tells Den of Geek ahead of the movie’s arrival. “Because also in those last four years, five years, we have learned so much. I think that we became better filmmakers.”

For starters, Bad Boys for Life inexplicably became the top-grossing film of 2020 worldwide as the COVID pandemic shut down theaters just two months after the movie opened. Two years later, in 2022, star Will Smith made worldwide headlines when he walked onstage at the Oscars to slap host Chris Rock. That same year, El Arbi and Fallah saw their high-profile movie Batgirl canceled by Warner Bros. Pictures, ostensibly as a tax write-off.

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Then after Bad Boys: Ride or Die finally started shooting in April 2023—with Smith and co-star Martin Lawrence both back—filming was shut down that July due to the actor’s strike. The film was not officially completed until March 2024, just three months before the movie’s June arrival. Throughout the process, however, Fallah says that their confidence in the movie and themselves as filmmakers never wavered.

“Even when we were making Bad Boys for Life, we felt there was still a story to tell,” he explains. “So we were very excited to see what would happen with these characters in the next movie. And with all our experience we had on Ms. Marvel [the pair directed two episodes and served as executive producers on the Marvel series] and our independent project Rebel, and coming back to working again with [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer and Will and Martin and Sony… the whole vibe felt much better now.”

Bad Boys: Ride or Die follows veteran Miami detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) as they investigate police corruption and end up being framed themselves, forcing them to work outside the law to clear both their own names and that of the late Capt. Howard (Joe Pantoliano).

“You’ve never seen the Bad Boys being the bad guys, so that’s the thing that makes it so interesting,” says Fallah. “Now they are the criminals. Now they have to go away from the cops and hit the streets where they’ve locked up all the guys, all these criminals, and become part of them. All of this provides so much tension throughout the movie, and I think also some very hilarious situations.”

Even with Smith in career-rebuilding mode, and he and Lawrence teaming up for the fourth time as these characters, the directors are adamant that the two actors still brought their A-game and their improvisatory style to the project. “These guys are just, like, timeless,” says Fallah. “What they have is magical chemistry that every time you see them—for us as directors, it’s just a blessing to work with these guys because they have so much to give, so much material, that it’s tough for us to make decisions about what we’re going to keep and what we’re not. I think they’re the best duo in cinema history.”

They certainly seem to be, for the moment, the last men standing in the once-inescapable “buddy cop” genre that proliferated at one time in films like Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour.

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“In the ’80s and ’90s, there were so many of these movies; they were so popular and doing so well,” says El Arbi about the relative absence of the genre today. “So it’s a bit sad to see that you don’t have this anymore. At the same time, it’s good for us to be one of the last really—not only an action movie but an action-comedy. There are not a lot of comedies being made nowadays, and this is one of the best genres to see in a movie theater.”

“This is something new for [younger audiences] because they didn’t see it in the ’80s and ’90s,” muses Fallah about the continuing appeal of the Bad Boys franchise. “So it’s definitely refreshing. And it’s just also grounded. It’s real action. It’s set in Miami, so you got the Miami flavor, you got the hip hop music, you got the Latino music, all the cultural aspects that are now really popular are in this franchise.”

If Bad Boys: Ride or Die hits with those audiences the way Bad Boys for Life did, then the ideas are already percolating for a fifth and even sixth Bad Boys film. “There are always multiple ideas in every direction,” says El Arbi. “It’s a Bad Boys movie, so we kind of know a little bit better what the audience wants to see or doesn’t want to see.”

Bad Boys: Ride or Die opens in theaters on June 7.