It’s been nearly 25 years since Miami police detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) first teamed up to shoot bad guys and destroy property in Bad Boys. How long ago was 1995? So long ago that back then, Martin Lawrence got top billing.
There was a sequel in between — 2003’s Bad Boys II, one of the most loathsome films of its decade — and now a part three, Bad Boys for Life, that has the aging cops reckoning with their past. (Well, “reckoning” as much as anyone can in this introspection-allergic genre.) Director Michael Bay is gone (though he has an onscreen cameo), but the new directors, Belgians Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and writers Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan continue the franchise’s foundational love of violence, revenge, and other manly qualities (like openly laughing at the idea of seeking therapy for PTSD).
So it’s definitely a Bad Boys movie, but it’s more good-natured and likable than its coarse, clumsy predecessors, which were helmed by a moron with an idiot’s sense of humor. This time around, Mike is upset with Marcus because after all these years of saying “bad boys for life,” Marcus wants to retire and not be bad boys for life with him anymore. Marcus is a grandfather now! He doesn’t say, “I’m getting too old for this s***” because that’s Danny Glover’s line, but the sentiment is there.
In addition, Marcus has a religious epiphany and pledges to God not to be the source of any more violence in the world, a pledge that Mike and the movie find laughable — the idea of just, you know, not hurting people is absurd. But bon’t worry, Mike makes him break his pledge before long, and Marcus realizes the folly of pacifism.
The antagonist is a Mexican crime family scion named Armando (Jacob Scipio), who’s after Mike for killing his kingpin father many years ago, acting on the orders of his mother (Kate del Castillo), a stone-cold killer in her own right. His first attempt on Mike’s life fails, and Mike wants to investigate who tried to kill him (we know it was Armando, but we have no way of telling Mike that), which of course is against police protocol. The blustery boss, Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), says Mike can tag along to “consult” and “observe” as long as he doesn’t get involved; Mike, of course, immediately takes over the investigation.
Mike and Marcus (when he’s involved) are working with a special force headed by Howard called AMMO, which Wikipedia tells me stands for Advanced Miami Metro Operations but which I don’t remember the movie explaining. AMMO is tech-driven and populated by several young, hot cops (including Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton) in a blatant attempt to Fast & Furious-ize the Bad Boys brand. The addition of a “crew” for Mike and Marcus changes the dynamic in fun ways, but their one-on-one interactions — the movie’s raison d’etre — are still lively too. The directors pull off a few nifty shots, and the plot is serviceable (I was actually quite invested in the story of Armando and his chilling mother). The film has all the ridiculousness of a ’90s action flick, only without the gay-panic jokes and the gleeful shots of people dying and their corpses being desecrated. Progress!