Diary of a Cineater: ‘Bad Boys For Life’ (2020)

Some movie lovers can easily pick and choose what they want to consume when it comes to a film series. Not me. When I sit down to spend time with a series, as long as the first few installments interest me, I am in it for the long haul. Sometimes this results in what I like to call “cinemasochism”. Other times I end up finding a diamond in the rough. The only way to know for sure is to consume it all, tolerate the poison, and report back my findings. Now it’s time for you to sit back, relax, and let this Cineater imbibe whole franchises in order to sniff out which entries are actually worth your time. My first subject: Bad Boys!

Bad Boys For Life (2020)

Directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith, Doug Belgrad, and Michael Bay
Screenplay by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan
Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Paola Nunez, Kate del Castillo, Jacob Scipio, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Nicky Jam, DJ Khaled, Joe Pantoliano, and Theresa Randle

It’s been 17 years since their last cinematic adventure, but Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett have finally returned. This time ’round they are up against a Mexican cartel, Mike’s long lost son, Marcus’ attempt at retired life, and their way of doing things becoming obsolete within the department. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like plenty of dramatic acreage to roll around in.

Unfortunately, it all ends up being as dull as dishwater.

As a fan of the first and an outright lover of the second, I’d honestly been hoping for a Bad Boys III since the moment that II left theaters. There had been false starts off and on throughout the 2010s, so when the project finally got off the ground in 2019, I was ecstatic. Sure, Bay was no longer attached as director, but he would continue to help shepherd the project alongside Jerry Bruckheimer to get it to where it needed to be. Toss in a script that hard-edged action aficionado Joe Carnahan helped work on and my excitement remained pretty high.

Expectations were not met.

Don’t get me wrong, this is far from a terrible movie. There are some really effective setpieces on display and franchise newcomers Adil & Bilall fit right into the vibe that Bay brought to the previous films. In many ways, this feels like a stylistic midpoint between the other two. The problem isn’t with the action or direction, however. It’s with everything else.

First things first, Will Smith just looks bored here. While the film makes him the focus, given that the villains are his ex-girlfriend and their angry lovechild, he seems largely disengaged with the plot. It probably doesn’t help that his recent Ang Lee film, Gemini Man, had a similar plot. That film also saw an aging badass questioning his previous life choices and being hunted by a younger, stronger version of himself. Gemini Man isn’t a great film and shares quite a few of the same problems as this, but it’s a better movie overall and one where Smith seems fully invested in the proceedings.

At least we have Martin Lawrence though, right? Not really. Martin might have a good amount of screentime here, but his retirement subplot feels like little more than padding. It’s as though they wrote a Mike-only movie and then didn’t remember to add Marcus into the narrative until a few drafts in. As a result, Lawrence looks just as bored as Smith.

Speaking of the plot, the story is bloated and over-complicated. It is a 90 minute tale ballooned out to have 2 hours and it feels it every step of the way. The film drags so much that I find myself not only unable to care about the leads’ situations, but was also left unmoved by what should have been a really important death scene. I also couldn’t have a hoot about the tech-savvy special police unit that is tasked with helping our heroes out. Those roles are well-cast, but the writing for each is so cookie cutter and cliche that Nunez, Hudgens, and company cannot overcome it.

Look, I realize that I am in the minority here. Near as I can tell, most people seem to love this movie, especially the fans of the other two. Not only that, but it is still the biggest hit of the year. Bad Boys 4 will happen at some point and I’m fine with that, so long as it’s an improvement. This one just wasn’t worth the almost 20-year wait. I just hope that, when the time comes to make BB4, someone can wake both Smith and Lawrence back up. C’mon fellas, you’re better than this.

Also, why in the world didn’t you save this title for the fourth movie?

Diary of a Cineater: Bad Boys
Bad Boys (1995)
Bad Boys II (2003)
Bad Boys for Life (2020)

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