Bad Boys for Life

The Bad Boys trilogy continues January 17

By Britt Argo

It’s that time again. Go along for the ride with buddy cop duo—Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence)—in their third installment of the Bad Boys franchise. We were first introduced to the Miami detectives in 1995 in Bad Boys, continued their journey in Bad Boys II in 2003, and now in 2020—the “boys are back in town” for Bad Boys for Life. A trilogy that’s spanned twenty-five years, it’s interesting to see how time has affected these characters, as well as the style of each film. In order to get the full enjoyment and full understanding of Bad Boys for Life, I highly recommend watching Bad Boys and Bad Boys II before seeing the new one.

The Buddy Cop Movie Formula

In the 80s, the buddy cop film genre was born—48 Hrs. (1982), Running Scared (1986), Stakeout (1987), Tango & Cash (1989), and the iconic Lethal Weapon trilogy (1987, 1989, and 1992). There was a formula; buddy partners (usually with opposite styles) would butt heads, quibble, exchange funny banter, and shoot up the city, crash cars, blow stuff up, etc. Then, get yelled at by their sergeant. It’s a style that works, but only if the two actors have chemistry—if you believe they really work together. Bad writing and over-the-top situations are forgiven… if the actors sell it correctly. Many films have fallen flat with miscasting, but when they get it right, it works.

Bad Boys (1995)

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures – a Sony Company

This movie was action director Michael Bay’s first feature film. (He got his start directing music videos). With super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer behind this one, we were introduced to a new version of the comedy/action buddy cop film. The formula was still there, but with new stylized camera antics and a fast-pumping soundtrack that sucked you into the action. It was our first look at those “Michael Bay signature moments.” The slow-motion foot race with pigeons taking off and the 360-degree camera swoop around the two by the car that went up to the sky—all well-known tricks he used in his later hits: The Rock, Armageddon, and Transformers. It was fresh and new in this movie, and even rewatching it now, it was still a cool feature that enhanced this film.

In this first Bad Boys, we get a lot more establishing of the characters. Will Smith plays suave, smooth ladies’ man Detective Mike Lowrey, a trust-fund Miami narcotics detective with a fast car, expensive condo, and “bullets fly off him” attitude. He is partnered with the goofy, struggling family man, Detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), who cares more about getting “quality time” with his family, avoiding dead bodies, and not getting shot. Their case becomes personal when Mike’s informant friend gets shot by big-time heroin smugglers, and they are tasked to protect a witness (Téa Leoni) while investigating the case. The real antics unfold when Marcus is forced to impersonate suave Mike and must switch places with him to fool the witness. We get a good mix of comedy from this bit, and a good mix of high-octane car chases and explosions as they pursue and finally capture the bad guy at the end. A successful action flick that I admit, I have watched many times over the years because of the funny banter between Will and Martin. Casting and chemistry, they got it right.

Bad Boys II (2003)

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures – a Sony Company

With the huge success of Bad Boys and the monumental success Will Smith was having (Independence Day, Men in Black, Enemy of the State, Ali), it was time to cash in and bring back the duo for a bigger, “badder” sequel. Director Michael Bay had established himself with big hits—The Rock, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor (perfecting his camera swoops). And Martin Lawrence needed something to redeem his image after misfires (Nothing to Lose, Life, Blue Streak, Big Momma’s House). By now, eight years later, the cop genre had changed a bit. Everyone wanted to amp up the action and deliver more, faster, louder films. The Fast and the Furious (2001) was a hit, and 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) was filming in Key Biscayne at the same time as Bad Boys II. Michael Bay changed focus to try and deliver a grittier, straight up action flick, downplaying the comedy aspects that made the first one so special. In this installment Marcus (Lawrence) is in a much different place. Frazzled and in therapy, tired of the risks, and not getting along with Mike (Smith), he has secretly put in for a transfer to get a new partner and less stressful assignment. However, a big turf war from a Cuban drug cartel forces the duo to take on their largest case ever. This time it’s personal for Marcus. When his DEA sister (Gabrielle Union) goes undercover to stop this ecstasy smuggling ring, Mike and Marcus must jump in to rescue her and catch the bad guy again. It’s also personal again for Mike, who’s secretly dating the sister (Union).

When I first watched this one, I’ll admit, I felt it was about thirty minutes too long, and I was disappointed by the lack of comedy that endeared me to the first one. But rewatching them now, back-to-back, I could appreciate what they were going for in this one. Once it focused on the main adversary, Johnny Tapia (Jordi Mollà), the movie took shape and became a decent action flick. (Still love the first one better, but this one is worth seeing).

Bad Boys for Life (2020)

It’s now seventeen years later, and these characters have aged and changed a lot. There’s even a new director duo. Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah took over the director’s chair (from Michael Bay) to bring their fresh perspective to the franchise.

Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) is now a police inspector getting ready to retire. Mike Lowrey (Smith) is struggling with a midlife crisis. But Marcus and Mike are tasked to work one more case when an Albanian mercenary comes after them for killing his brother. This time Mike is in danger when they are coming after him for revenge. He pleads with Marcus, “On these streets, I never trusted anybody but you—one last time—it’s bad boys for life.” Marcus, of course, agrees to help since family is most important to him, and after all these years, Mike is family.

Their captain assigns them to work with AMMO, the bureau’s young newbie gun-toting crime-fighting team (Vanessa Hudgens and Alexander Ludwig) who see these two old cops as “dinosaurs” who should step aside and let the “real team” take over. Motorcycle chases, gun fights, driving through a mall, jumping onto a helicopter—all the usual high jinks ensue as the duo fight to get their guys for the third time.

Is it worth revisiting Bad Boys again? Yes.

The best parts from the first two movies are sprinkled in again. The hilarious Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) is back screaming at them for the carnage and high body count. Martin Lawrence gets his comedic bits in. Marcus wants the slower, more peaceful approach to “talking nicely to a suspect,” which doesn’t end well for his face. He quips about a pit bull taking his seat before a motorcycle pursuit. A dead body smashes his wife’s car and sets him off on a rant. We get his fun one-liners and reactions (mall car chase) throughout for a little levity. And the new directors bring the gritty, action genre to the 2020s, again mirroring what you expect from other flicks with The Fast and the Furious level explosions and carnage. If you’re an action junkie, this one delivers that eye candy of chases.

(Of course, if your speed is more Downton Abbey than Downtown Miami shooting spree, this one isn’t for you). To get the full enjoyment out of Bad Boys for Life, I recommend a marathon—watching the first two, then catching this one on the big screen while it’s fresh on your mind. Getting to compare the style as it’s evolved over twenty-five years helps you appreciate the trilogy so much more.

Britt Argo, an avid movie fan for 30 years, sees an average of 150 movies a year in movie theaters. She is the marketing coordinator at Area 51: Aurora Cineplex and The Fringe Miniature Golf5100 Commerce Parkway in Roswell. 770-518-0977.