Directors: Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence Running Time: 124 minutes
It isn’t much of an exaggeration to call the Bad Boys series to date some of the most hateful films ever to make it to the multiplex. Bad Boys II was particularly repugnant; a cruel, homophobic, racist, cynical indulgence in all of the worst excesses of director Michael Bay, mindless and reactionary even by 2003 standards. That’s on top of incoherent action and grimly repeated buddy cop tropes, just about jolted into life by the chemistry of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Action movies have moved on, and most big budget blockbusters at least try to hide it when they have fascistic overtones or adolescent sensibilities. So seventeen years later and with its stars both in very different places in their careers, was there any good reason to resurrect these crass cops, besides their sworn oath to be bad boys til’ they die? Improbably, yes. This is very much the post Hot Fuzz vision of Bad Boys, its ludicrous macho bullshit has been exposed so thoroughly but so lovingly since by films like Edgar Wright’s that the only real way to move forward is to acknowledge and embrace the OTT tropes. Like a lot of aging franchises, For Life asks the question if it’s old gunslingers still have any gas left in the tank. Then, to raucous effect, it blows up that tank, doubling down on every excess and wallowing in something wonderfully wild.
Over a decade since the smack-talking Miami cops invaded Cuba and went on a wild killing spree, the realities of age are setting in, at least for one of the bad boys. Now a grandfather, detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) is eyeing retirement, drawing the ire of Mike Lowrey (Will Smith), who is adamant that things stay the same and that the Boys are as good as ever to a frankly concerning degree. Mike gets a reality check when he is gunned down in the middle of the street, part of a series of violent crimes that are directed by a spectre from his past even he doesn’t realise is in play. Teaming up with the Miami PD’s new Advanced Miami Metro Operations (AMMO, a revealing acronym if ever there was one), the Bad Boys ride one last time to hunt down the villains. You could say they’re on the case, but that would be to dramatically misread the motivations of Mike and Marcus. Having had the audacity to put bullets in “Bulletproof” Mike Lowrey as well as a few other close connections, the baddies of For Life have made the mistake of making it personal, the absolute worst thing an action movie villain can do and a free pass for these cops to do whatever they want in the pursuit of their own brand of justice. Oversight and criminals alike are tossed out the window.
Martin Lawrence at least has a character he can ease into graciously, shifting his more comic relief spot into an endearing but flawed granddad figure. He’s mellowed out and even introspective, having promised God that he would turn to pacifism to ensure his partner survive the shooting. He’s truly too old for this shit, and Lawrence matches the vibe perfectly. Smith meanwhile is fascinatingly off-kilter. The combination of dated masculinity, anxiety over his mortality and the fact that they made this shit pERsoNaL curdles in Mike Lowrey and turns him into a truly deranged figure, swinging manically between a violent rampage of revenge and fun-loving Fresh Prince. “Raids are supposed to be fun!!” he wails, Smith capturing the frightening truth that many real life cops probably believe that. This is a cop on the edge who is truly on the edge and whether he’s pleading desperately for a heart to heart with beleaguered chief Joe Pantaliano, demanding his partner race him or torturing DJ Khaled, you can’t take your eyes off him, as much from fear as entertainment.
Tasked with replicating Bayhem, Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah offer something slightly less flashy but much more coherent, serving regular action scenes with clear movement and defined purpose. Combining recreations of Bay’s favourite shots with dad humour and wild melodrama, El Arbi and Fallah provide the self awareness that a movie like this really needs in 2020. Telenovelas are referenced more than once in For Life, some of the cast even have their background in the Mexican soap world, and there is a similar heightened reality which while utterly daft, serves a purpose. Escapism can be all the easier when you have something so broad to escape in, and blowing up emotions to such a huge degree can make them easier to process. Smith played a similar action star raging against the dying of the light last year in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, but the looser tone in the film around here helps it go down a lot smoother. When you see Marcus, an avowed pacifist, who mere scenes earlier had wailed that both Boys have committed terrible sins for which they may never be forgiven, pull ever larger weapons out of a motorcycle like a cartoon character and chastise his maniac partner with a “damn you Mike!” before blowing up goons with a grenade, the silliness can’t help but become endearing. The pair’s comedic chemistry remains strong, and with the playful banter of the AMMO crowd and a strong focus on the importance of family also in play, there’s a lot of effort here to smooth down the edge of previous films for a softer, Fast and Furious familia vibe, which they then turn up into R-rated gleeful violence because they just can’t help themselves. Chaotic and frenetic, the film will grab hold of you and take you for a wild ride. Like a good drinking buddy. Or a hostage taker.
Bad Boys for Life feels like opening a forbidden tomb and having Michael Bay’s stupid, hateful, hyperactive soul escape and possess you. Monster energy drink courses through your veins instead of blood. You want to punch a hole through God and you laugh while you flail your fists wildly. Intentionally or not (and it as self aware as a movie with a glowing cameo from Bay himself could possibly be), it is such a radically unhinged experience, so unashamedly celebratory of every explosive impulse, that to be shocked and to be exhilarated by the things it throws up on screen are basically the same experience. What can you do when Bad Taste comes for you this strongly, except give in? It’s audacious. It’s committed. It’s Bad Boys, for life.(3.5 / 5)