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How Bad Boys For Life’s directors brought back the ‘90s — from Belgium

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‘It’s been a long time since you’ve seen a traditional buddy cop movie’

Bad Boys For Life pulls off one of the most unlikely tricks in blockbuster moviemaking: It’s the rare good third entry in a franchise, a successful soft reboot that introduces a small squad of new faces to carry the Bad Boys name into the future. It does all this while also coming nearly 20 years after the last film in the series and being the Hollywood debut of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, a Belgian directing duo known for gritty crime dramas on a much lower budget.

Over a phone call just after Bad Boys For Life’s opening weekend, Adil and Bilall spoke with The Verge about making that transition. The duo are as ebullient and energetic as brothers, frequently finishing each other’s thoughts and serving as the other’s hype man. Despite not yet knowing how their film performed at the box office, the directors were eager to talk about getting the chance to homage their ‘90s action-movie upbringing, at nearly 100 times the budget they’re used to.

The Verge: This is your first Hollywood movie, right?

Adil: That’s right! Our first movie was what, 3.4 million?

Bilall: Yeah, and now it’s 100 million.

Adil: That’s a big jump, brotha!

Action movies are great for introducing audiences to different talent — I’m interested in how you put this movie’s international cast together.

Adil: Well, we wanted to have a cast that was a reflection of the diversity of Miami, because Miami is the place where the movie takes place. It’s a character in the movie and it’s very multicultural. We have, obviously, African Americans with Will and Martin, but also Paola Núñez is from Mexico, Vanessa [Hudgens] is of Filipino descent, Charles [Melton] is Korean— we wanted to have that mix of flavor that is also in all of our movies. Our movies are very colorful, that’s what we like. It’s our trademark, you could say.

What attracted you to doing a big Hollywood action movie?

Adil: Specifically, for this one because it was a Bad Boys movie — we grew up with Jerry Bruckheimer movies, at the end of the ‘80s and the ‘90s, Michael Bay movies, this whole era. And we wanted this movie to be an homage, to give a nostalgic feeling. Also Lethal Weapon

Bilall: Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, all that.

Adil: And that’s what attracted us to Bad Boys. Me and Bilall, we’re like the bad boys of cinema in Belgium. (laughs) Those characters and that dynamic. And we love action, big action movies, that real Hollywood thing — you can’t do that in Belgium.

Bilall: And in this movie, the action starts with these characters, Mike and Marcus. That comedy intertwined with the big action, that attracts us a lot.

Oh, definitely. One of the best scenes is one on an airplane where they just sit and razz each other for a few minutes.

Bilall: Yeah!

Adil: Mine too! They just sit and talk! And the camera doesn’t move, but it’s awesome.

The movie feels like the Michael Bay movies the first two were, but also fresher somehow. Do you think something’s been missing from action movies?

Adil: It’s been a long time since you’ve seen a traditional buddy cop movie. And these days, most action movies are superhero movies or the Fast and Furious franchise — which this movie resembles a little bit, but those movies are almost superhero movies. Like you see Hobbes and Shaw and that’s the superhero version of Bad Boys, you could say.

With movies like John Wick, you have that old-school traditional action again that we try to make — those movies were a little more of an inspiration for how we wanted to take on the action. Sure, there’s extravagant action, but we wanted to have it a little bit more grounded than, like, your Fast and Furious or a Marvel movie.

The Fast and Furious comparison feels valid with how this movie ends. Is that a direction you’d want to go? Would you both want to make more Bad Boys movies?

Bilall: We don’t want to make 10 of those movies! Maybe we can do one more story if the audience loves [Bad Boys For Life]. Maybe this is the last one, maybe we are ready for another one, but it’s also like... we really love these characters, Mike and Marcus, but also the new guys on the block, the AMMO team. We feel there is much more in it, and I think there is a possibility for it. The audience will decide, but also the story, there has to be an evolution, if it’s just a copy of this one then it is not interesting enough.

Coming to Hollywood from Belgium, money is obviously the biggest difference, but did anything else surprise you about the process?

Adil: Yeah, we were surprised that even though there’s a lot of money there’s still not enough money.

Bilall: No money and no time! Never enough time!

Adil: But the other thing is that it’s just this gigantic machine. You make a smaller movie, you take a camera, you go in the street and just shoot it. Here, you have to have 250 people on the set that you have to move. That’s a whole other way of making a movie. But at the end of the day, you have Will, Martin, and Jerry [Bruckheimer]. They always supported us and helped us through this process of big moviemaking.

And you had Michael Bay drop in for a cameo! What was that like?

Bilall: That was the first day we actually met him, on the day of that shoot!

Adil: We were super nervous because a lot of our crew worked with him, but it was super nice! He just said at the end, “Don’t fuck up my baby,” and then we were like, “We got you!”