Credit: Frank Masi/Sony Pictures
Blockbuster Beat by Matt Lynch Featured Film

Bad Boys: Ride or Die — Adil & Bilall

June 6, 2024

2020’s Bad Boys for Life, the third installment of the series after a 17-year gap, was “lucky” enough to come out mere months before Covid lockdowns eighty-sixed moviegoing for a long while, thereby making it the biggest box office hit of the year. So, despite the asterisk, a fourth entry was probably inevitable. But For Life was also pretty tepid, a padded-out would-be action comedy with very little of either element proving successful. One sorely felt the lack of Michael Bay, who helmed the first two, and his unmatched instincts for offensive juvenilia and gleeful destruction. Part three felt like nobody knew what to do with the characters.

But Bad Boys: Ride of Die is an almost complete reversal. If you’d imagined a not-as-good-as-the-last-one sequel to Bad Boys II way back in, say, 2006, it might look something like this one. Gathering as it does most (if not all) of the characters accumulated over the previous movies, it’s easy to dub this Fast and Furious-style, but its real touchstone is 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4, with a ridiculous script that’s basically just a clothesline for a grip of sturdy action sequences and the endless buddy-banter shtick audiences are craving.

We start with trust-fund super cop Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and his stressed-out family man partner Marcus (Martin Lawrence, the Murtaugh to Smith’s Riggs) blowing through traffic on the way to Mike’s wedding (missed opportunity that they don’t interrupt a bank robbery or something, but what are you gonna do?). During the ceremony, however, Marcus flops over from a sudden heart attack. He ends up okay, but the near-death experience he suffered has pushed him right over the edge — now he’s convinced he can’t die. Meanwhile, Mike’s new status as a married man has seriously curtailed his bravado. This simple role reversal does wonders for all the goof-off joking these two characters are required to engage in over the course of the next two hours, and it pays off very well.

Elsewhere, somebody — probably the bad guy drug dealer played by Eric Dane — has framed the deceased Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano, killed in the last movie), posthumously setting him up as the corrupt kingpin for the Miami arm of “the cartel.” The boys have to clear his name, and along the way, they’ll have to collect the characters from the last go-round, Dorn and Kelly from the AMMO team (Alexander Ludwig and Vanessa Hudgens, respectively) and Mike’s illegitimate son Armando (Jacob Scipio). Former SWAT commander Rita (Paola Nunez) is back too, now a muckety-muck in the DA’s office, currently dating a prospective Mayoral candidate (Ioan Gruffudd, who couldn’t possibly be a secret villain). They’re also pursued by Captain Howard’s daughter, US Marshall Judy (Rhea Seehorn, totally and scandalously wasted).

That’s a whole lot of plot, but the film basically just hurtles from action sequence to action sequence: a car chase into a helicopter chase, and so forth, joined together with the slimmest of connective tissue, like a sudden bit of voiceover (“It’s all going down at an abandoned amusement park.”). If you’re a fan of this sort of thing, that level of narrative shortcutting is a feature, not a bug. And the all-important action is a huge step-up from that of Bad Boys For Life. First, there’s a hell of a lot more of it, and second, it’s flashier, bloodier, and more elaborate; one standout sequence in particular involves a spinning first-person POV shootout with the guys literally throwing their guns back and forth to each other. It’s as close as these have come to BAD BOYS II’s thrilling 40-second, 360° swirls and seems to even have built upon the influence of Bay’s drone use in Ambulance. On the whole, it’s a real return to form for the franchise. Is it a great action movie? No. But it is a legitimate blast to experience, and a throwback to a better time when you could expect a B+ action movie in theaters every weekend, every summer.

DIRECTOR: Adil & Bilall;  CAST: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudges, Alexander Ludwig, Tiffany Haddish;  DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Releasing;  IN THEATERS: June 7;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 55 min.