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.

Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

He's not a nightstalker, and it'll take a lot more than bench presses to defeat him.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) (SPOILERS) The most successful entry in the franchise, if you don’t count Freddy vs. Jason . And the point at which Freddy went full-on vaudeville, transformed into adored ringmaster rather than feared boogeyman. Not that he was ever very terrifying in the first place (the common misapprehension is that later instalments spoiled the character, but frankly, allowing Robert Englund to milk the laughs in bad-taste fashion is the saving grace of otherwise forgettably formulaic sequel construction). A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master boasts the most inventive, proficient effects work yet, but it’s also by far the least daring in terms of plotting, scraping together a means for Freddy to persist in his nocturnal pestilence while offering nothing in the way of the unexpected, be it characterisations or story points.

Give daddy the glove back, princess.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) (SPOILERS) Looking at Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare , by some distance the least lauded (and laudable) of the original Elm Street sextet, you’d think it inconceivable that novice director and series old-hand – first as assistant production manager and finally as producer – Rachel Talalay has since become a respected and in-demand TV helmer. For the most part, Freddy’s Dead is shockingly badly put together. It reminded me of the approach the likes of Chris Carter and Sir Ken take, where someone has clearly been around productions, absorbing the basics of direction, but has zero acumen for turning that into a competent motion picture, be it composition, scene construction, editing or pacing. Talalay’s also responsible for the story idea here, which does offer a few nuggets, at least, but her more primary role actively defeats any positives.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.