After the last few years, and after some truly terrible choices, I can only hope that Will Smith has fired his agent. Starting with 2015’s Suicide Squad, maybe even earlier, he hasn’t made a single good choice in the roles he accepts. He’s really been through the doldrums in the last few years, there was the atrocious Bright, then just last year there was the one-two punch of Aladdin and Gemini Man, unnecessary and dull respectively.
I can’t say I have the same nostalgia as some people towards the Bad Boys films. They’re Michael Bay films, and you all know how I feel about him, and their the kind of action films that make my eyes glaze over, loud and dumb with no substance. So I can’t say I was brimming with confidence leading into this new installment, but I was also willing to give it a fair crack.
We rejoin detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Barnett (Will Smith and Martin Laurence, respectively) a few decades older, but no wiser – in Mike’s case anyway – but just when Marcus is planning his retirement, following the birth of his first grandchild, an attempt on Mike’s life leads them on one last case.
On the surface, the plot seems very cookie cutter, the structure of an old cop nearing retirement is pretty much a cliche, and I was pretty much ready to write off Bad Boys For Life after the first overexposed, colour-enhanced car chase, something out of left field happened that sucked me right in like a thousand dollar escort.
Now, talking about this is going to be difficult, as it’s a pretty major plot point, and my usual rule of thumb is to not give away any plot points that aren’t revealed in the trailers, I figure anything that is known about the film pre-release is fair game, so this huge plot point in which the whole narrative hinges on is very much off the table for me.
It was a bold move nonetheless, one that immediately raises the stakes of the film, as well as making us invest in these characters all within the first act, along with other brave plot decisions raises its profile above the first two films in a heartbeat.
There’s an interesting background dynamic also with some younger characters, a group of new cops, very much of the new school, very high tech and tactically minded that is constantly at loggerheads with Mike Lowrey and his ‘bad boy’ image, there’s some interesting tension between Mike and some of the more fresh-faced agents, one of which he has romantic history with, another one he is in an alpha-male contest with, it adds some interesting narrative creases that shows how much the procedure has changed in the past twenty years.
Another thing about BBFL that surprised me was just how much it made me laugh. Martin Laurence has incredible timing with his one-liners and sarcasm, and while I do think it may have leaned on the ‘stereotypical black guy’ speak, it’s at least in line with previous instalments, and the two leads pull it off so well with their effortless charm.
Nobody was more surprised at how funny this film was than me I assure you, and I was even more shocked that it manages to mix this with a compelling narrative, with actual feasible stakes, even if the strength of the threat is at times fantastical. It pulls off the action buddy-cop thing better than most I’ve seen attempt it, enhancing its profile with some genuinely unpredictable twists throughout the second and third acts.
With this film and Bumblebee last year, I’m starting to notice a pattern. Maybe franchises attached to Michael Bay could actually be good, providing they’re wrenched from his ghoulish hands and given to someone half-competent (he does show up here, in a cameo that tested my patience, but he was gone soon after) and Bay Boys For Life isn’t just competent, it’s good, it might even be really good. It manages to rise above its status as a ‘loud, dumb action movie’ by combining an engaging narrative with likeable characters. Who knew that was all it takes to make good entertainment?