It’s not entirely fair to ding Bad Boys For Life for not being a Michael Bay movie, but late into the notorious climax of Bay’s 2003 monsterpiece Bad Boys II, the Bad Boys sneak a small army into Cuba and barely escape the minefields of Guantanamo Bay. In this new, unfortunately Bay-less sequel, they fly commercial to Mexico. Such is the timid pallor that hangs over what would be in any other universe a serviceable action movie. And yet, in the terrible universe that we occupy, it has to follow one of the most unpleasant and thrilling entries in the history of the genre, from one of its greatest practitioners.
Seventeen years after their last cinematic ride, Mike (Will Smith) is actively fighting against aging and Marcus (Martin Lawrence) has sunk even deeper into filial harmony as a new grandfather (his daughter married the boy we watched Mike hilariously threaten with prison rape in part 2, how sweet). But a Santeria-obsessed cartel widow and her mysterious son turn up and toss a few bullets into Mike. After barely surviving, he vows revenge and drags a newly-retired Marcus kicking and screaming back onto the streets. The entire Fast and Furious franchise has grown up in the interim between Bad Boys movies, and so you can hardly blame this one for both trying to tame its noxious reputation by grafting some “It’s all about family” skin over those wounds, but the result is generic, tepid comedy. Even more unfortunate is Joe Carnahan’s screenplay, which frequently dips into a characteristic macho gravitas that clashes wildly with all the cornball dick jokes. That would matter less if we were talking about Riggs and Murtaugh, but it’s worth remembering that Smith was the second banana in the original 1995 film. This franchise has always been about Bay and his action.
In any other universe a serviceable action movie.
Which isn’t to say that Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are slouches. Rather that they simply aren’t up to the comparison. Bay’s technique and capacity for pure evil are both unparalleled, and while the new blood skillfully deploy a lot of nice long handheld takes in their relatively legible and occasionally amusingly violent action scenes, they simply don’t have Bay’s manic, blinding, plastic virtuosity. A nighttime motorcycle chase can’t come close to topping the last movie’s insane auto-pinball freeway sequence (let alone its notorious corpse-decimating second act chase), and some clever camera gags, like a fun full 90-degree tilt during a late shootout seems like firing blanks in the face of the 40-second 360-degree spin from II. This isn’t an entirely bad movie but turning one of the most spectacular expressions of a filmmaker’s personality, however toxic, into this generic IP-extending product is still a shame.