Skip to main content

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life
(2020)

(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

Is that retro-quality refreshing? Not hugely, because it’s too familiar, too pedestrian, to offer a distinctive spin. We’ve seen the whole aging cops thing before (most notably in the Lethal Weapons). There are times when, mainly during the first half, Bad Boys for Life feels like it has slowed down to a crawl, which isn’t so much as reflection on Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah as it is a screenplay – credited to Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan, the latter having fallen out as director – that only ever goes through the motions of interrogating its leads’ aging process. Almost every means of doing so exhumes a rash of tropes and clichés, many of which might have been better left unmined. And it has to be said, while the chemistry between Smith and (semi-retired?) Lawrence is still in evidence, it doesn’t – and probably couldn’t – have the energy of previous forays. They aren’t struggling so much as hitting a less frantic groove, which means that you notice more how the material is just so-so. Not bad, but far from a cut above.

Amongst the standard tropes duly checked off the list are impending retirement, shifting attitudes (and conflicting ones) to the partners’ traditional unruly approach, the adversarial posture of a new younger team, fatherhood and even grandfather-hood (“pop-pops”). Most of which have some appeal, familiar as they are, but none of them add up to a movie that felt like it was dying to be told, and there’s simultaneously the sense that just as Bad Boys for Life is upping the ante and announcing it means business – the unnecessary murder of Joe Pantoliano’s Captain Howard, which is sure to have been from the Carnahan draft, but also echoes the non-fatal motivating trope that took down Ronny Cox back in Beverly Hills Cop II – it simultaneously pulls out the weakest and least convincing card in its deck (the revealed lost son, which Smith has obvious difficulty in making connect).

The screenplay is possibly purposely designed to be a bit slippery, taking its time to build up momentum, but that means there are longueurs and hiccups during the first hour, in particular the section after Mike is shot and the (peculiar, since everyone surely knew of his condition, except the audience) fake out of his showing up at Marcus’ daughter’s wedding in a wheelchair. Most of the intermittent scenes of Mike’s old-school behaviour clashing with his partner or boss and or ex-girlfriend feel like they’re going through the motions, coasting by on Miami scenery as opposed to any content.

And on the other side, if the action is largely effective (a motorbike-and-sidecar chase offers a fine balance of thrills and funnies), it’s rarely pulse-quickening. There’s a welter of splatter, squibs and stabbings in here, more than there has been for a lightweight action flick in some considerable time, possibly since the heyday of Joel Silver (although, you can bet Carnahan would have matched it), but it feels superfluous, rather than simply gratuitous (which it also is), included because that’s what Adil and Bilall think is the order of the day. Most over the top in this regard is the Mexico-set climax’s capacity for overkill, literally so when it comes to villainous cartel boss Isabel Aretas (Kate de Castillo) being repeatedly shot, plunging to a fiery fate and impaled in swift succession. Cos she’s a witch.

By this point, the plot’s major fail is fully to the fore, that of the reveal that Armando (Jacob Scipio), Isabel’s son and the attempted assassin of Mike and successful assassin of Howard, amongst others, is Mike’s son. Thematically, Mike having unbeknownst grown-up kin fits with the movie’s themes, but in execution it’s an ungainly dud, leading to Armando being granted a chance for redemption he hasn’t remotely earned (through helping to save Marcus and being set up for a fourquel). Scipio seems like a solid enough actor, but he’s playing standard-issue evil Mexican cartel guy for ninety-nine percent of the picture, so the empty platitudes Mike offers aren’t nearly enough to forgive and forget (even the evil younger Smith vs older Smith in Gemini Man lands better, although together the pictures raise a what-was-Will-thinking regarding their successive similarity).

Of the supporting AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations) crew, Vanessa Hudgens is seemingly cast so they can pose her provocatively during the undercover (underdressed) club scene, Charles Melton is the lippy young buck butting heads with Mike, and Alexander Ludwig the gentle giant (who goes back to the ways of violence on the proviso of therapy; Marcus’ pact with God not to use violence is similarly trashed as the picture proceeds, and one wonders quite what the takeaway of these vows is supposed to be, except as a means for the filmmakers to announce that, hey, they did at least think about all the carnage wreaked before deciding that it was no odds to an amoral good time). The actors all do what is required of them serviceably enough, but that isn’t really enough to make a difference. Paola Núñez, slightly reminiscent of Carrie Anne Moss, does manage to make an impression in the undercooked role of their boss and Mike’s ex, though.

Bad Boys 4 has already been announced, and no doubt the easy charm of Smith and Lawrence will see it through, but it’s clear from Bad Boys for Life that, like any well-regarded action series, their longevity is equal-parts down to the director. Michael Bay, who cameos, may have wasted the last decade making rampaging robot junk, but he possesses an undeniable style, and without him on board, there’s a sense that this series is rather going through the motions, even as you can’t really hang any blame for failing to live up to his “legacy” on Adil and Bilall (who are also attached to the upcoming Beverly Hills Cop 4).

 
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

Never lose any sleep over accusations. Unless they can be proved, of course.

Strangers on a Train (1951) (SPOILERS) Watching a run of lesser Hitchcock films is apt to mislead one into thinking he was merely a highly competent, supremely professional stylist. It takes a picture where, to use a not inappropriate gourmand analogy, his juices were really flowing to remind oneself just how peerless he was when inspired. Strangers on a Train is one of his very, very best works, one he may have a few issues with but really deserves nary a word said against it, even in “compromised” form.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

You’re easily the best policeman in Moscow.

Gorky Park (1983) (SPOILERS) Michael Apted and workmanlike go hand in hand when it comes to thriller fare (his Bond outing barely registered a pulse). This adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 novel – by Dennis Potter, no less – is duly serviceable but resolutely unremarkable. William Hurt’s militsiya officer Renko investigates three faceless bodies found in the titular park. It was that grisly element that gave Gorky Park a certain cachet when I first saw it as an impressionable youngster. Which was actually not unfair, as it’s by far its most memorable aspect.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.