In 1995, a couple of then fresh-faced TV comedy stars fronted a splashy buddy-cop movie for seasoned studio hitmakers Don Simpson & Jerry Bruckheimer. “Bad Boys”, the tale of a couple of mismatched Miami cops shielding a young witness from a local crime lord, meshed the old with the new – in this case, the best bits of “Lethal Weapon” and “48 Hours” combined with the funky, fluid and hip comedic stylings of a new unlikely duo in Will Smith (“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”) and Martin Lawrence (“Martin”). The result was a welcomingly energetic and funny action-comedy that played as well as it looked – due to the gifted visual eye of another then newbie on the scene, Michael Bay.
By the time Bay – who went on to become better known as the ‘Transformers’ guy – got around to directing the sequel, he’d become so engrossed in his trademark style he had little time left for substance. As such, 2003’s “Bad Boys II” wasn’t a shade on its predecessor.
Bay remains on as a producer on the latest film (and also appears in a quick cameo) but it’s newcomers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah behind the Panavision Primo Lenses here. Minimal experience aside, it’s both a relief – as a stringent fan of the original Clinton-era classic – and a surprise to discover these next-big-things have made both a love letter to the Bay-of-yesteryear and a film that will bring a wide smile to fans of the original movie.
The libretto -credited to Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan– sees cops Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) at a crossroads in their lives. The former, a smooth ladies man who has become known as somewhat of an impenetrable action hero in Miami, can’t understand why new grandfather and ageing cohort Marcus has decided to retire.
It’s only when Mike is shot by a shadowy criminal, and later becomes determined to catch the culprit, that Marcus reluctantly agrees to… one last ride.
With its superbly-shot and vibrant action sequences shadowed only by the beautiful orange tint of the Miami skyline, this is a breed of action pic rarely made these days. Clearly largely practical, and making full use of any Floridian structure or interesting passage offered up to the production, “Bad Boys For Life” is old school – of the best kind. If it weren’t for Martin Lawrence’s chubbier cheeks and Will Smith’s slightly more greying mug, you’d swear it was even produced before the millennium.
Yet any fan of the “Bad Boys” – and yep, even the uber-macho sequel has its fans – franchise knows that the secret sauce on it’s veneer isn’t so much the over-the-top but jaw-dropping action but Smith and Lawrence’s double act. Astonishingly, the actors don’t just remember their original dance but their chemistry, and performances as a whole is welcomingly wild.
Where one might’ve expected – after 17 years – the actors to have forgotten their cues as Lowrey and Burnett, the fifty-something year-old duo surprise with lively and funny performances. In a couple of spots, there’s even some dyed-to-the-wool, duct-dropping dramatic acting going on.
And though they’re forced to unite with a younger generation of law-enforcers here – not for any other reason but that it serves the story – Smith and Lawrence bounce well off their new, younger cast members (including former Disney Channel staple Vanessa Hudgens and “Hunger Games” alum Alexander Ludwig). There are some golden gags between the lot as they slowly learn how to work together.
Vibrant, superbly-shot, undeniably funny and such a welcome relief after the recent succession of stinker sequels, “Bad Boys For Life” is an arresting winner.