The original Bad Boys came out 25 years ago, and was an important milestone in blockbuster film, as it was Michael Bay’s first directing gig after a long successful stint doing music videos and commercial work. It also further cemented Will Smith as an action star, as opposed to just a comedic actor who could do stunts a la Men in Black (1997). Despite the lampooning and lambasting Bay receives often by film school graduates and members of the film media, it cannot be denied that technically he is a brilliant artist. Among fans of Bay’s technical work are names such as Edgar Wright, Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg. It’s just a shame that this current version helmed by Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah doesn’t share the same technical prowess throughout.
17 years after the events of Bad Boys II, detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) need to contend with the greatest villain of all – aging. Marcus wants to retire and Mike wants to keep things as they are in the status quo. Disrupting both plans, is a villain played by Kate del Castillo who is seeking vengeance for the death of her drug kingpin husband, and plots to kill Mike through her son Armando (Jacob Scipio). In order to fight this new threat, the Miami PD enlists the new task force “AMMO” of young twenty-somethings to help out, and to further reinforce that Mike and Marcus are both getting on in years.
Bad Boys for Life is a confusing movie. The main characters portrayed by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence spends most of the runtime of the film trying to convince you of two things. Either A – they’re too old for this, or B – they’re not too old for this, and are indeed “Bad Boys For Life”. I found myself feeling left out during most of the film – as if I were at someone’s wedding that I didn’t know too well. The cast were clearly having a last hurrah, but as someone who last saw Bad Boys II when I was sixteen, I felt I wasn’t in on the joke. The script’s comedic moments regularly don’t land, but there are moments of genuine humor. These are entirely owed entirely to the performances of Smith and Lawrence and nothing else.
The new directors – Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah both clearly enjoy Michael Bay’s style, but their fandom allows very little of their own talent to come to the forefront. Emulated are Bay’s signature low telephoto shots peppered throughout the movie without rhyme or reason, and there are plenty of needless traditional “Bayhem” explosions. They’re just not very exciting.
There are moments – fleeting brilliant moments. Moments where the film does something truly spectacular. In one scene, for example – the camera twists a hard 90 degrees very suddenly to follow a gun pointed up at a balcony above. It’s a simple maneuver, but one that was done quite violently with the camera rig. It was exciting. I recall this moment with breathtaking clarity. It made a huge impression on me as something highly unusual and artistic in an otherwise mediocre yet intermittently capable fight sequence.
As a person who occasionally enjoys Michael Bay’s particular brand of overly plastic, busy, orange and blue hued action pyromania, I was left disappointed. Bad Boys for Life is a poor imitation of Bay’s style – a recipe executed with most of the right ingredients, but poorly and without panache. And without panache – all that’s left of Michael Bay is… well… Bad Boys for Life.