Bad Boys for Life review: Will Smith and Martin Lawrence defy belated sequel’s various shortcomings

The third entry in the popular buddy cop franchise has many faults - but the chemistry between its lead duo is not one of them

Bad Boys for Life
3.0 out of 5 star rating

It’s become something of a tradition in recent times to bring back film franchises that first made their name at least two decades ago: the last few years have seen delayed sequels for Blade Runner, Trainspotting and Independence Day, amongst others, with varying degrees of success.

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Well, we can now add another member to that increasingly growing club – Bad Boys. The Michael Bay-directed buddy cop franchise, which first surfaced in 1995 before spawning a sequel in 2003, has returned for a belated third entry, with original stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reprising their earlier roles.

The set-up is as follows: Lawrence’s Detective Marcus Burnett, who has just become a first-time grandfather, is aching for retirement – “We’ve been bad boys our whole life,” he laments at one point. “Isn’t it about time we were good men?” Smith’s Detective Mike Lowrey, on the other hand, is passionately against the notion of an end to his career, still gleefully chasing adrenaline on a daily basis.

However, after Mike becomes the target of a mysterious assassin – who has some as yet unknown link to his past – Marcus has no choice but to end his retirement and reunite with his partner for one last mission.

They are also joined on this occasion by AMMO, a new department of the Miami police force which Mike regards with a little suspicion – in part because it is led by his ex-girlfriend Rita, played to good effect by Mexican actress Paola Núñez. Mike also takes against some of the new methods used by the department – he can’t understand, for example, why they are using surveillance drones in favour of simply bursting into assorted criminal hideouts with fully loaded guns. (Yes, all these years later the series’ rather unhealthy attitude towards police violence is very much intact.)

It is through AMMO that we are introduced to a new collection of characters, including one Vanessa Hudgens, who appears to have taken a break from donning Christmas jumpers for Netflix to play a sort of stock bad ass cop. This group, with the exception of, Rita, is generally fairly forgettable – although there is a good scene in which Mike and Marcus lambast what they consider to be a subpar rendition of their trademark song, Bad Boys.

Unlike its two stars, Bay has not returned for the third instalment (although he does serve as an executive producer), but to be honest, you could hardly tell. The very first scene sees a flashy car coast down a sun-soaked Miami beach, while almost every frame thereafter is packed with the almost fetishistic obsession with weaponry and police militarisation that made Bay’s name.

There’s also a fair share of toxic masculinity on show, including a weird jab based on the suggestion that, heaven forbid, our eponymous bad boys might benefit a little from going to therapy. Make no mistake, this might not technically be a Michael Bay film, but it also absolutely is a Michael Bay film – his influence on Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah is never in doubt.

For the most part the plot is fairly standard action fare, although it does veer decidedly towards the preposterous in its final act. I won’t give anything away, but let’s just say that more than one person in my screening audibly uttered “What?” at one revelation. The action sequences too, are nothing really to write home about – although the final set piece in a burning Mexican house is certainly visually arresting.

Bad Boys for Life is a film that excels most during its quieter moments, when exploring the dynamic between Smith and Lawrence and riffing on their differing approaches to ageing – an early montage which intercuts Mike embarking on a one-man mission with Marcus lounging around his home in a dressing gown is especially good value.

Bad Boys for Life
Bad Boys for Life
Columbia Pictures/Sony

Lawrence in particular is clearly having the time of his life in what is a relatively rare movie appearance for him these days. His character might be worried about the effect ageing had had on him – but it certainly hasn’t affected the actor’s on-screen chemistry with Smith, nor his comic timing or line delivery, which remain consistently excellent.

There are also some enjoyable visual gags – the pair riding home in a squashed car on which a corpse has just landed is one, Marcus painstakingly dyeing Mike’s goatee as he lays unconscious in a hospital bed (a call-back to an earlier discussion) another.

So, let me be clear – there is an awful lot wrong, or at the very least not quite right, with this film, and it will certainly not go down as anything even approaching a classic. And yet, the central partnership at its core is so indestructible that Bad Boys for Life is elevated beyond just a standard action blockbuster and somehow defies its various shortcomings.

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Bad Boys for Life is in UK cinemas from Friday 17th January 2020