‘Bad Boys’ return with style and substance

January 25, 2020

The fact that the “Bad Boys” franchise is entering its third decade makes you wonder if it would still have the same appeal had its intended stars been cast: Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz.

Back in the ‘80s, screenwriter George Gallo (who went on to write “Midnight Run” with Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin) penned a script titled “Bulletproof Hearts,” about two New York cops who had to go undercover to bust up a heroin ring. Carvey was cast as a ladies man to Lovitz’s family man in the proposed comedy purchased by then-hot producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer.

Disney gave them the green light and a budget of $20 million, and since most of it was going to be spent on action set pieces, they were handing it over to first-time feature film director Michael Bay.

Best not to ruminate too long, as we most certainly would not have “Bad Boys for Life” at this moment if that original plan came through. And, thankfully, we do.

Yup, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence still demonstrate the chemistry that first made them box-office champs in the 1990s (back when Lawrence received top billing), and while the film does not stray far from its joke-joke-boom roots, it does offer enough style, charisma, and reflection to necessitate its existence.

It should at least erase the bitter aftertaste of 2003’s “Bad Boys II,” which was perhaps one of the most racist, homophobic and xenophobic mainstream flicks of that decade.

“For Life” has the elder “Boys” dealing with their past and looking ahead in life and in their jobs, with Marcus (Lawrence) eyeing retirement and the birth of his grandson, and Mike (Smith) still wanting to blow up stuff and shoot people.

But things get complicated when Mike is gunned down by the son of a Mexican crime boss. He survives the attack, but Marcus pleads with him to take that as a sign to retire with him and enjoy their golden years. Mike, however, is re-energized with revenge.

Perpetually exasperated Captain Howard (played again by Joe Pantoliano) agrees to let Mike “advise” a younger group of cops on their investigation of his killer, which means he’s back in action, naturally.

The rest of the film plays out much like one would expect, but there is a slipper-like comfort in the leads’ rapport, and a substantial pondering of mortality (strange, in a franchise with so much bloodshed, but it's progress, right?). The newer officers (played by Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton), are amusing-enough garnishes to this entrée of action, but it's all at Smith and Lawrence's table.

Bay is no longer directing, passing the torch to two Belgian directors, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who perhaps rely too heavily on “whoosh swipes” between scenes, but they do demonstrate the right amount of pacing for the formula.

The action is set to "Fast & Furious" levels of reality, but, like the best of that franchise, there's an element of catharsis in its chaos, and Smith and Lawrence seem more than happy to light fuse after fuse.

And while I'm not yearning for another outing (which the film clearly sets up), "Bad Boys for Life" gives us just enough nostalgic nuttiness to party like it's 1995.

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. Email him at

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