Michael Bay’s cult-classic duology Bad Boys and Bad Boys II are available in a two-disc set for about $10 wherever videos are sold or $2 used on Amazon if you’re inclined. In about a year, curious viewers can probably find a set featuring those films plus Bad Boys for Life for about $10 new or $2 used. That’s the level of value Life adds to the series. It’s the latest in a line of “long-awaited” sequels that arrive at least a decade after everyone involved in the production has forgotten what made the first movies appealing to audiences in the first place. Incoherent and interminable, but not in the glorious way audiences have grown to love from former franchise visionary Michael Bay, Life is a true mid-January studio writeoff.
Bay’s directorial reign has been handed off to Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, probably because they were way cheaper than him. Reportedly his and Will Smith’s enormous asking prices were what kept Life off the ground for so long, and clearly Smith was the face of the franchise. Never fear: A moment early on makes it clear Bay gives his blessing.
Rather than making it their own, Arbi and Fallah mix a bland brew of sub-Bay attempts at action sequences (gone are the insane stunts and explosion work that are Bay’s oft-parodied but never-matched calling cards), comedic bits between Smith and co-star Martin Lawrence (which coast on their chemistry) and one of the most truly bizarre takes on aging and leaving a legacy I’ve ever seen. Comparisons to Mexican telenovelas are adequate, so much so that the movie can’t resist having a character literally scream it. I don’t know why the story is so burdened by these creative choices when the soul of Bad Boys is just some cool cops doing nasty shit but, uh. Choices were made all the same.
Are there any good action sequences? No, not really. Is the “hip techie squad” that shows up to make Mike (Smith) feel old cool? No, no, no. A team of cool hacker kids with fade haircuts and name-brand polos is never remotely cool. Drones are not cool. Hacking is not cool. Most “new kids show up the old man before the old man teaches them wisdom” plots know that the kids aren’t actually cool and that nobody wants them around. But for some reason their team — AMMO — just keep popping up whenever Life threatens to be interesting or exciting. They add a few more guns during the big finale, but by then they’ve overstayed their welcome.
I took a bathroom break when I thought the third act was starting, during a boring car-chase sequence. Turns out the film had only just hit the hour mark, with another hour to go.
Smith, Lawrence and fellow franchise stalwart Joe Pantoliano as Captain Conrad Howard all seem to relish returning to their roles. Howard, if you forget, is the archetypical Pepto-guzzling captain who hates the hell his men put him through but, goddamnit, can’t deny their results. He gets in some good screaming scenes and also one heart-to-heart moment that doesn’t feel congruent with the story up until that point.
Lawrence is probably the one most in his element here, as the script relies on him to turn every beat into an exacerbated one-liner. His character, Marcus, is a grandfather now, and hoping to retire from the life. Mike disagrees, and has a personal vendetta against one of the film’s bland drug-cartel villains. Marcus is dragged along. He bitches about it constantly. The audience ate it up, as they should: He’s delightful. One running gag involving his aged eyesight is funny.
We get a few old franchise resurrections each year wherein our masculine heroes learn that bullets and blood aren’t the spoils of a life well lived. There’s room for them! The James Bond series’ Skyfall, Spectre and upcoming No Time to Die seem to be forming a general trilogy about cinema’s foremost icon in that realm coming to grips with his contemporary value. Top Gun: Maverick (as well as the excellent Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible — Fallout) seem to deal very specifically with Tom Cruise’s aging crisis. Last year’s tremendous Rambo: Last Blood took the classic character down a path of depressing, endless pain.
There’s something to be said for the fact that the Bad Boys saga, which was a watershed moment for blockbuster cinema of this ilk featuring black leads and violent debauchery, gets its own old-age denouement. The team is clearly going for a more thoughtful take on the lead characters while trying to hold on to Bay’s insane approach to action filmmaking. The characters still have great chemistry, but the tonal mixture just doesn’t quite work, resulting in the worst thing a Bad Boys film can be — generic.