The worst thing about Bad Boys for Life is that it is not heralded with a chart-topping rap collab between Nelly, P. Diddy, and Murphy Lee. The era of the St. Lunatics is firmly behind us. The era for Bad Boys seemed to be as well. But 17 years after Bad Boys II, Bad Boys for Life returns to Miami, where the boys remain bad even though they are both at the age where, as someone awkwardly says in the film, they’re trying to be “good… men.” And you know what? It works.
Bad Boys for Life catches up with its heroes Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) at what should be the end of their careers. Burnett’s now a grandpa, and wants to retire. Lowrey, however, still wants to be a Bad Boy: taking down criminals, preferably like a badass, and never settling down romantically. But when someone tries to assassinate Lowrey, the two have no choice but to get back in the game and crack some skulls.
Unfortunately for them, they’ve got company. The charmingly named AMMO squad is Miami PD’s elite team that specializes in high-tech tactics for bringing down high-profile criminals. While clearly designed as a bid to build a Fast & Furious style “family” around Lowrey and Burnett (and bring in younger stars like Vanessa Hudgens and Riverdale’s Charles Melton), the conceit works. Headed up by Rita (Paola Núñez), AMMO is the primary way by which the film homes in on its obvious-but-effective conceit: Lowrey and Burnett are old. And they aren’t just old, they’re exhausting.
Bad Boys For Life is like a less self-aware Hot Fuzz, a movie about how much of a pain in the ass it is to be cops who work with wannabe action heroes. Lowrey in particular is hotheaded in a way that would be troubling if he were played by anyone other than Will Smith: bloodthirsty, reckless, and self-interested to the point where he’s almost entirely unlikable. Smith’s excessive and undeniable charm is the only reason Lowrey works at all, and even then it’s barely enough because Will Smith, like Mike Lowrey, isn’t the firebrand he used to be. Current slang doesn’t roll off his tongue as naturally, and these days the lusty reckless cop act suits him poorly. Martin Lawrence, though? He’s perfect, and when the two of them find a groove — like an extended bit where the two merely sit on a plane and razz each other for several minutes — it’s still fun to watch.
Jokes that are just funny enough for you to hope no one dies
Unfortunately, the new faces are underutilized. Its villains, the mother-son team of Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo) and Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio) are terrific but surprisingly absent; they barely appear in the movie’s second act. The AMMO squad is fun, but seems to waste Hudgens and Melton, two actors who are likely capable of leading a spinoff film. None of this ruins the movie, it just might’ve been the difference between good and great.
Bad Boys for Life is admirable in its lack of ambition. It’s here to serve action and comedy in roughly proportionate amounts, with big set pieces that are just thrilling enough to hook you and jokes that are just funny enough for you to hope no one dies.
If, reading all this, you think that Bad Boys for Life might be benefiting from low expectations, you’d be right! January has long been a dumping ground for bad movies, and no one has been clamoring for a new Bad Boys film (although if you have, there are plenty of callbacks just for you). But Bad Boys for Life is doing something I deeply appreciate, something that only the Fast & Furious films attempt, despite their tremendous success: making an action movie for brown folks.
I like having a big movie every year that I can watch with a solid hip-hop / urbana soundtrack, where the fades are tight, crisp white Nikes are standard issue, and dudes who look like my uncle chew scenery alongside reggaeton stars (or, in the case of Nicky Jam, reggaeton stars who look like my uncle). Movies where performative masculinity is taken to cartoonish lengths, and women cut them down several pegs while also kicking ass on their own. Movies that end with a cookout and cheap imported beer, you know what I mean? Bad Boys for Life is that movie, and if you’ve got a need for one, it’ll do the job.