Bad Boys For Life came out in January of this year. It was the first big release of 2020 and despite some skepticism (mostly from people like me, who pointed out that it had been 18 years since the release of the previous Bad Boys film), it went on to become the most financially successful January release of all time. Not only did audiences love it but critics were surprisingly positive as well.
When I watched the film last week, I occasionally felt as if I had stepped into a time machine. Even though the movie was just released a few months ago, it really does feel like an artifact from another age. I mean, here we have a film named after the theme song of Cops, a once inescapable reality show that has largely been memory-holed as its uncritical depiction of the police has fallen out of fashion. The film even features several scenes of the heroes singing the Bad Boys song, a song that declares that there’s nothing you can do now that the police are coming for you.
Of course, the film itself is about the type of supercops who, up until a few months ago, were popular in films and television. These are the type of cops who are always quick with a quip and who have no problem trampling all over the Constitution in their pursuit of the bad guys. The film celebrates the idea of the “super cop” in a way that seems almost unthinkable in our current cultural moment. Defund the police? How could you possibly want to do that when the cops are as charming as Will Smith and …. uhmm, Martin Lawrence?
Smith and Lawrence return as Miami Detectives Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett. Played by Smith, Mike is a confident and cocky playboy whose carefree façade hides a complicated path. As played by Lawrence, Marcus is a mild-mannered family man who thinks that his partner needs to settle down and perhaps show a little bit more caution with some of his life choices. Together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!
No, this time I’m not joking. That is literally what they literally do. They’re famous for solving crimes and Mike is known as being the “bulletproof cop.” However, they’re both getting older. Mike’s beard is going gray. Marcus wants to spend more time at home. Even their old boss (Joe Pantoliano) is talking about his retirement. Unfortunately, a man named Armando (Jacob Scipio) is riding around Miami on a motorcycle and murdering anyone who was involved in the arrest and incarceration of an infamous Mexican drug lord. He’s doing so on the orders of his mother, Isabel (Kate del Castillo), who is also known as La Bruja. When Armando targets Mike, everyone is forced to reconsider their plans.
That may sounds simple and straight forward but the film complicates things with a third act twist involving Mike and Armando’s relationship. It’s a twist that really shouldn’t work and yet it does, largely because Will Smith is a strong enough dramatic actor that he makes Mike seem like an actual human being, as opposed to being just an infallible action hero. Smith gets not only the best dramatic moments but also some of the best comedic ones, especially when he ends up working with a bunch of younger cops who aren’t as impressed with Mike as Mike is with himself. Martin Lawrence doesn’t get to do as much as Smith but he has a few funny moments and, most importantly, the friendship between Mike and Marcus feels real. Lawrence and Smith have an undeniable chemistry that works in both comedic and dramatic scenes. When Marcus says that he can’t stand to see Mike putting his life in danger, you believe him. When Mike reacts to Marcus’s desire to retire as being some sort of personal betrayal, you understand exactly what’s going through Mike’s head to make him overreact. You believe that Mike and Marcus really do care about each other and it adds a surprising amount of emotional depth to certain scenes.
Bad Boys For Life is a good action film, one that has a surprisingly big heart. The action scenes are well-handled. The chase scenes are exciting. Will Smith again shows why he’s a movie star. Though the film may seem like a relic of a bygone era, it’s undoubtedly entertaining. (Considering the ADD-nature of popular culture nowadays, it’s easy to imagine that supercops will be back in fashion sooner than later.) Naturally, it ends with the promise of sequel and I imagine that we’ll eventually get one. The only real question is whether or not Marcus and Mike will still be singing their theme song. Let’s hope so.