GREG'S GRADE: B+
Seventeen years after "Bad Boys II" and 25 years after the original "Bad Boys," Miami P.D. detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are back. And while Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah faithfully reproduce the shiny and sleek look and feel of departed director Michael Bay, "Bad Boys for Life" isn't afraid to show the franchise's age — in fact, it revels in it.
After a quarter century on the force, Marcus is settling comfortably into middle age. He's a grandfather now, with his eye on retirement and looking to distance himself from the violence that has filled his career. Mike is a different story — never married, no kids. (Maybe that's how he can afford a Porsche on a cop's salary.) While Marcus is all about family, Mike's focus is the job, and he becomes even more determined after he's nearly killed in a drive-by shooting.
Always the "cool" one of the duo in the past, experience has hardened Mike, and though it's all in the name of catching bad guys, his desire to cause bloodshed and mayhem is disturbing.
"We've been bad boys all our lives. Now it's time to be good men," Marcus says, refusing to join Mike in seeking revenge. So instead, Mike joins up with a young, technologically savvy police squad, headed up by an ex (Paola Nuñez), that's a bit taken aback by his more forceful methods of policing.
The perpetrator they're looking for is the son (Jacob Scipio) of a drug dealer Mike helped put behind bars, where he eventually died, years earlier. The assassin targets all those involved in his father's case, while his mother (Kate del Castillo) insists he save Mike for last. Her reasons become clear with a third act twist, leading to an ending that isn't even close to earned and has a very "Fast & Furious" feel to it.
Though not as wildly over the top as the pyrotechnics of "Bad Boys II," the action sequences here are sufficiently ridiculous and take advantage of the R rating. They're endearing to fans of '90s action cinema, with little regard to collateral damage or the laws of physics.
Of course, this kind of movie lives or dies on the chemistry of its stars, and Smith and Lawrence easily slide back into their familiar roles and rhythms. Smith, especially after Mike is shot, is the straight man, allowing Lawrence, who's been MIA on the big screen for most of the past decade, to steal the whole movie. He plays this older Marcus with dad-joke charm, giving the movie more heart and warmth than the series ever earned with its first two installments. And he's lost none of his comedic edge. Welcome back, Martin.
Not just acknowledging but making its stars' age — Smith is 51, Lawrence 54 — a central point gives "Bad Boys for Life" a reason to exist beyond pure nostalgia. Even as it's a love letter to the franchise, it moves the series forward, making it more interesting than it's ever been. The idea of a fourth installment isn't a bad one.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, sexual references and brief drug use. 123 minutes.
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