Film Review: ‘Bad Boys for Life’: ‘Good Men, Good Men, Whatcha Gonna Do?’

January 22, 2020 Updated: January 26, 2020
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R | | Action, Comedy, Crime | 17 January 2020 (USA)

It’s the continuing, bombastic adventures of Miami PD detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence)! However, that director of bombast, Michael Bay, is only appearing in a cameo here, and our two “bad boys for life” are now middle-aged. One might be tempted to imagine this would render their whole cops-n-robbers milieu much less bombastic.

And granted, the fact that these previously high-energy and loudly profane law-enforcement partners must now confront their own mortality, encroaching fatness, losing a step, and other midlife realities (like becoming more thoughtful and reflective)—that would, by definition, have to slow them down a bit, right? In a word, um, no.

two black men in a car in "Bad Boys For Life."
Will Smith as Detective Mike Lowrey (L) and Martin Lawrence as Detective Marcus Burnett in “Bad Boys for Life.” (Columbia Pictures)

Obviously, a franchise as successful as this one is going to serve up liberal portions of the ingredients that made the previous two installments work: the chemistry, one-liners, and violence. But, in the same way that Clint Eastwood started poking fun at his own aging process starting with “Unforgiven,” this third “Bad Boys” film similarly makes use of the aging factor. Because this whole thing started rolling a quarter of a century ago.

It embraces the fact that men of action at some point must put down the warrior sword. These guys aren’t quite there yet, but due to the immediate success of this installment, there will most assuredly be a fourth one in which the boys will celebrate their dotage by braining perps and trailing mayhem as they approach their final resting places in the Barcalounger.

What Goes On

There’s a nasty cartel queen-pin named Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), who escapes from prison and is coming for Mike. She’s a witch, too! We see her throughout the movie in her Mexico City rooftop shrine, lit with candles honoring the folk saint Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, a skeletal, haunting female demon of the underworld.

She’s got a loyal, Bruce Lee-like assassin son, Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio). She wants revenge on the cops who apprehended her husband. Guess which cops? So Mike and Marcus are being stalked by a scary cartel witch’s scarier Bruce Lee-assassin son.

Mike’s a cowboy cop who’s fast-paced and whose happy single lifestyle has become threatened by his past coming back to haunt him (hint, hint). This requires Will Smith to sell us on taking Mike seriously, but the character’s constantly driving his 2- and 4-wheeled high-performance vehicles at unlawful speeds, as well as indulging in many fistfights with the above-mentioned Latino Bruce Lee.

man on ground with gun and pink smoke in "Bad Boys For Life."
Will Smith as Mike Lowrey in “Bad Boys for Life.” (Columbia Pictures)

Smith, ever the consummate pro, gives all this nonsense his all, which actually makes the movie fun. And in many ways, this is a reprisal of his recent “Gemini Man” role, where he also drove and biked fast and traded blows with a younger version of himself. Even though “Gemini Man” tanked critically box office-wise, Smith is still fun to watch doing Michael Bay-type mayhem stuff. Especially with Martin Lawrence trading verbal funniness with him.

Two men in a dark club
Martin Lawrence as Detective Marcus Burnett (L) and Will Smith as Detective Mike Lowrey in “Bad Boys for Life.” (Columbia Pictures)

Good Men

When the original 1995 “Bad Boys” came out, both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence were starring in their own sitcoms: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Martin,” respectively. “Cops,” the documentary-like TV show about cops, whose theme song—”Bad Boys”—provided the title and theme music for this movie franchise, was in its sixth season, which is why the movie was such a hit at the time; it tapped into an American cop-culture zeitgeist of sorts.

man in camo jacket points gun
Will Smith as Mike Lowrey in “Bad Boys for Life.” (Columbia Pictures)

The violence in “Bad Boys for Life” is nonstop, part cartoonish and part disturbing, but Smith and Lawrence, whose banter may have actually reached a zenith here, make us forget that this is all basically foolishness. Clearly Smith and Lawrence have still got it; the franchise can survive without Bay’s particular brand of bombastics. (Other directors can obviously bombastic it up as well.)

The franchise has swerved unexpectedly (and somewhat impressively) into character-driven territory. And the bad boys can handle it. While Smith at one point witheringly derides the concept of trying to sing the bad boy lyrics substituting “good men, good men,” etc., the fact of the matter is—that’s where they would appear to be headed.

So whatcha gonna do when they come for you, next time around, since we’ll now be subjected to their shenanigans for life? We’re gonna go watch them some more is what we’re gonna do.

two black men walking in street in "Bad Boys For Life."
Will Smith as Detective Mike Lowrey (L) and Martin Lawrence as Detective Marcus Burnett in “Bad Boys for Life.” (Columbia Pictures)

’Bad Boys for Life’
Directors: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Núñez, Kate del Castillo, Nicky Jam, Joe Pantoliano
Rating: R
Running time: 2 hour, 4 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 17, 2020
Rated: 3.5 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch