• Zach D'Amico

Bad Boys for Life Undermines Its Own Existence


Sony

If you go to the cinema looking to be perplexed for two hours, I recommend Bad Boys for Life. If you like high-octane set pieces with focus group-tested, bite-sized capsules of comedy thrown in once per five minutes, you’ll have moments of joy. If you prefer a sub-plot about grit and love and family, carefully manicured to pull at your heartstrings in between the jaw-dropping stunts, you won’t be completely disappointed. Even if your idea of a good time at the movies is a morality play intended to make you question what you’ve known to be true in decades of action flicks, you won’t leave empty-handed. But if you ride for cohesive movies that advance anything close to a consistent visual, tonal, or substantive aesthetic, you might want to steer clear of Bad Boys for Life. The third installment of a Michael Bay-originated series, this one directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Bad Boys for Life certainly brings the fun and the funny. Living up to its predecessors, the movie leans heavily on Marcus (Martin Lawrence) for the humor and Mike (Will Smith) for the action. Helicopters, explosions, car chases, and fight scenes abound – many of them genuinely thrilling and brilliantly choreographed, particularly a birthday cat-and-mouse game in one of Miami’s hottest clubs. And while the Bad Boys-meets-Lethal Weapon humor gets so redundant you want to bang your head against the wall, Martin Lawrence still has his comedic timing. In fact, I’m half-convinced the funniest moments of the film are just him riffing on Will Smith’s absurd predicaments. Anyway, it’s no more and no less than you expect. And this long-awaited return to Bad Boys isn’t short of sentiment, either. Or as Marcus puts it, it uses its heart to penetrate our souls. Mike channels the boys of the Furious franchise early on, telling Marcus that “family is all that matters.” It’s on the nose, sure, but who goes to see Bad Boys for Life for subtlety? Marcus and Mike relive their glory days and find their bonds tested over and over again, making the movie just one in a long line of recent reboots, sequels, and remakes to rely on nostalgia to elicit any kind of emotion. If that’s your thing, then bring the tissues. And lest it confine itself to being two things at once, Bad Boys for Life puts on a third hat: the message film. “You said if I went out I was gonna get somebody killed,” Mike laments to Marcus. Violence is cyclical, Marcus argues. Over and over again, both the protagonists and the villains demand solidarity in the form of revenge – helping bring more violence into the world is the best way you can show love. It’s an idea the movie explores in multiple half-attempts, like when Marcus criticizes Mike for the bad karma he’s built with a lifetime of violence, orr when the new, high-tech AMMO police squad conducts a non-violent raid with rubber bullets. But it abandons each attempt, raising the issue and then turning its back on it every 20 minutes. In desperately trying to be all three of these things -- a Bay action flick, an MCU-inspired nostalgia pill, and a morality play -- Bad Boys for Life fails to do any of them well. Rather frustratingly, it undermines itself at every turn. After each moment of introspection on the costs of violence, the movie whips out a new set-piece that screams “but look at how cool violence can be.” And worse, when given the opportunity to do gorgeous violence, slow-motion violence, necessary violence, the most principled characters shrug their shoulders and join in the “fun.” Even the genuine humor at watching the old guys try to reclaim the glory of their youths is diluted when Will Smith somehow jumps about 30 feet through the air onto a rope ladder hanging from a helicopter over the ocean. I promise, I am not usually a killjoy. I love unabashedly fun movies filled with little more than bombast and bravado. But Bad Boys for Life is no Speed, no Mission: Impossible – Fallout. It’s a failed attempt to “elevate” the original Bad Boys. Or, as Mike says to Marcus just after the final, inconceivable turn of events: “No, Mike, you the fucked up you.”

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