bad boys for life

Photo Courtesy of Columbia Pictures, 2.0 Entertainment, Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Overbrook Entertainment, and Sony Pictures Releasing.

Whatchu gonna do when they come for you? Because they’re back. Will Smith (“Men in Black,” “I, Robot”) and Martin Lawrence’s (“Boomerang,” “Death at a Funeral”) dynamic duo have returned, 25 years after Michael Bay’s directorial debut and 17 years after the so bad its good action cult classic sequel. With Bay no longer in the director’s chair and an older but wiser perspective on the story, could this be the best of the “Bad Boys”?

What’s most impressive about this threequel is the surprisingly large amount of time it spends on emotion and downtime. There’s plenty of action to be had here, but it doesn’t feel nearly as archaic or nihilistic as before. Some will likely long for the spastic, incoherent nature of Bay’s directing style, but the Belgian duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (“Black,” “Snowfall”), known as Adil & Bilall, ground the action and carnage in a thankfully intelligible way.

While there are still some of the classic 360 Bay shots, like “Bumblebee” these younger directors take the foundations that Bay laid and clean them up. Many action shots glide along, going on for easily double or triple the length of a typical Bay shot. Some shots of brutality linger in a very “John Wick” way, lending some menace to the villain and the proceedings.

It makes the entire film much more satisfying (and easier) to watch. No longer is there fear of motion sickness due to the sheer number of cuts, and the plot moves along fairly coherently, even if it isn’t anything particularly new. Someone is out for revenge, someone who knows our heroes and they have to solve the case before its too late. Classic and cliched stuff.

Yet, screenwriters Joe Carnahan (“Smokin’ Aces,” “The Grey”), Peter Craig (“The Town,” “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”) and Chris Bremner (“The Wedding Ringer”) make sure the films’ ample downtime is used to great effect. The action scenes are thrilling, but ironically the films’ best moments come from scenes of honest chats between Mike and Marcus. The pair debate things like retirement, non-violence, different approaches to their job, family life and growing beyond their angry, overly masculine ways throughout the film. These also aren’t just one-off conversations, as they’re integrated into the plot in meaningful ways.

Smith is as charming as he’s ever been, though this film also allows him to examine new depths with the bad ass bad cop Mike. Meanwhile Martin Lawrence is mostly a comic foible, but he also gets his own moments of surprising depth when examining his own life, mortality, and karma. Jacob Scipio (“The Outpost”) who plays the villain Armando gets some great moments of true menace here, and even his story isn’t as surface level as the previous films’ baddies. None of the three are doing groundbreaking work, but its solid across the board.

It’s the supporting cast that really shines. Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical,” “Spring Breakers”), Alexander Ludwig (“Lone Survivor,” “The Final Girls”) and Charles Melton (“Riverdale,” “The Sun Is Also a Star”) are a group of younger, more tech savvy special unit cops whom Mike and Marcus assist throughout the film. While the dynamic of a younger team vs the old veterans is a well-worn action movie cliché, they pull it off better than most.

Leading this team is the extremely charming Paola Núñez (“Reina de corazones,” “The Son”), who’s no nonsense demeanor and casual nature with Mike steals the show. Joe Pantoliano (“The Fugitive,” “The Matrix”) also returns as the chief and is as humorous as one would expect, as are the handful of cameos from the likes of D.J. Khaled to Michael Bay himself.

It isn’t revolutionary, but the film’s love of Miami is in full effect, with multiple characters casually slipping in and out of Spanish and blending cultures left and right. The locations are gorgeous, with a slight tint bathing Miami and Mexico City in an orange glow. In a world of whitewashed and lukewarm white action heroes, the films heavy emphasis on Latinx culture lends it a kind of freshness akin to last year’s “Terminator: Dark Fate.”

Really, thanks to an engaging supporting cast, a more focused story and sense of action, a surprising level of emotional depth, and the always charming duo of Smith and Lawrence, it is no stretch to call this the best film in the series. Granted, it still isn’t anything award worthy, but given the typical cliché of January films and the previous two in the series, its an accomplishment to label these bad boys as pretty good. 3.5/5

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