It’s easy to forget 25 years and dozens of major movie roles later, but 1995’s Bad Boys was Will Smith’s introduction as a major star. He’d done well as a family-friendly rapper and star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it wasn’t until the R-rated, Michael Bay-directed action film came out that audiences could see what a true movie star he was.
So it’s kind of hard to believe that it’s taken this long, 17 years after Bad Boys II, for a third film to come out. Bad Boys for Life, starring Smith as Detective Mike Lowrey and Martin Lawrence as Detective Marcus Burnett, has the two 50-plus characters/actors confronting their mortality and legacies. Mike is still gung ho about police work, while Marcus is ready to hang it up, especially with the recent birth of his granddaughter.
Both of those things are thrown into flux with the arrival in Miami of Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio), who’s seeking revenge on Mike and other members of law enforcement at the behest of his mother, Isabel (Kate del Castillo), for unknown reasons. Helping track him down is a special police division known as AMMO, led by Rita (Paola Nuñez), and featuring a trio of officers with unique skills (played by Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, and Alexander Ludwig).
Directed by Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and written by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan, the film takes the audience down some familiar paths, but also mixes things up a bit. While the plot moves relatively quickly, the filmmakers opt to slow things down occasionally to get to know new characters or emphasize certain plot points.
Half of the draw is the action, and the filmmakers amp things up nicely. As is the case in many movies like this, you have to suspend your disbelief when gunshots are flying among a large group of people in a small space. Still, they don’t shy away from actual consequences, treating their characters like human beings instead of impervious superheroes.
The other half of the draw is the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence, and it remains great. Whether by choice or circumstance, the careers of the two actors are far apart, but they’re on equal footing as these characters. Their acting skills complement each other well, and the timing they have elevates relatively mediocre writing.
The supporting cast, which includes Joe Pantoliano as Captain Howard, Nicky Jam, and DJ Khaled, works well with the main duo, giving as good as they take. About the only surprise is that Smith and DJ Khaled didn’t follow up their song from Aladdin with another new song here.
Naturally, plans are already in the works for Bad Boys 4, which is set up nicely at the end of this film. Bad Boys for Life is not great cinema, but it works well as nostalgia and for throwaway January movie entertainment.