MOVIE REVIEW OF ”BAD BOYS FOR LIFE”

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reprise their roles as Det. Mike Lowrey and Det. Marcus Burnett in “Bad Boys for Life” (*** OUT OF ****), a routine but entertaining police procedural action crime comedy, bristling with all your favorite cops and robbers’ clichés.  Lowrey handles the gritty gymnastics in this third entry, while lethargic Martin Lawrence steals the show with his mellow humor.

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Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced “Bad Boys” (1995) and “Bad Boys 2” (2003), has done literally everything with gifted Moroccan-born Belgian co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah to recapture the hyperactive spontaneity that made first two “Bad Boys” such exhilarating nonsense. While Arbi and Fallah pull off a clever imitation of Michael Bay’s flamboyant style, everything about this sequel suffers from contrivance in one form of another.

Our heroes survive hailstorms of flying lead because the villains are such pathetic shooters!  Freshman scenarist Chris Bremner, Peter Craig of “The Town,” and prolific scribe Joe Carnahan of “Smokin’ Aces” and “The A-Team” have penned a boisterous buddy picture.  Our two heroes are middle-aged crazy in an interesting plot whose origins date back before Lowry and Burnett partnered up.  The big surprise here reminded me of “Gemini Man,” an earlier Will Smith actioneer.

In “Bad Boys For Life”, the conflict between Mike and Marcus arises over a clash of values.  One retires and the other struggles to lure him back into the fold.  Like most sequels, the plot concerns something Mike never talked about as well as what prompted Marcus to retire and abandon Mike on Miami’s mean streets.  Co-helmers Arbi and Fallah recycle those traditional aerial shots of scenic Miami as well as our heroes’ amusing banter with plenty of profanity to distract audiences from the plot–a simple case of revenge-cartel style.

The day and night car and motorcycle chases, the raucous firefights on streets, and the bruising rooftop fistfights are vigorous but barely memorable for all their blood, sweat, and tears.  The grand finale in Mexico City, which turns into an Armageddon with the demolition of not only an entire city block but also a venerable hotel, ranks as the showstopper!

As we rejoin our “Bad Boys,” Mike careens recklessly through Miami in his shiny new Porsche with Marcus riding shotgun.  Patrol cruisers, police helicopters, and harbor patrol boats clear a route for them as our heroes drive not only in forward but also in reverse to reach the hospital before Marcus’ daughter gives birth.

Of course, they’re too late. One look at the Burnett eyes and ears of his grandchild is enough to convince Marcus to resign from Miami PD.  Mike and he are still glory hounds, but time has taken a toll on their gung-ho heroics.  Meantime, one of Mike’s old flames from the distant past provokes a deadly riot in a Mexican prison.  She stabs a guard to death and escapes with a trail of dead bodies piling up behind her.

Isabela Aretas (Kate del Castillo of “El Chicano”) had been serving time for far too long when she broke out.  Now, she plans to make up for past fiascoes, primarily the death of her cartel kingpin husband Benito who once ruled Miami.  She creates a hit list of civic officials, attorneys, government agents, and Mike Lowrey and dispatches her fearless, prison-born son, Armando Aretas (newcomer Jacob Scipio), to knock them off and then reclaim their supremacy over Miami.

Trouble is Armando starts from the bottom rather than the top and incurs his mother’s wrath.  He plows three bullets into Mike Lowrey during a drive-by that lands Miami’s bulletproof cop in surgery with prospects of his survival slim. Not surprisingly, Mike lives to fight another day, while Marcus musters all his religious clout to keep his partner alive.

Marcus vows to refrain from violence, and their friendship suffers a trial by fire.  Now, Mike needs Marcus locked and loaded at his side, but Marcus walks away.

Nobody gives a bad performance.  As the villains, Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio constitute a formidable mother and son twosome.  They ice anybody who interferes with their plans, and neither fears anything except the truth.  Basically, Mike and Marcus have met their match.

Will Smith is his usual carefree self as the loose cannon cop who doesn’t abide by team rules.  Naturally, he wants to investigate his own shooting, but Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano of “The Matrix”) refuses to accommodate him!  Incidentally, Howard is the only other original franchise character. Eventually, when he realizes Mike plans to investigate with or without his permission, Howard assigns him as a consultant to AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations).

Mike’s old girlfriend, Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens of “Machete Kills”), supervises this new crime unit, and she clashes with Howard over his decision.  The clues lead them to a suspect who concocted the bullets that the surgeons excavated from Lowrey’s wounds.  What starts as a stakeout turns sideways when the other criminals double-cross the suspect. They brought no money to pay for those lethal bullets. Predictably, Lowrey’s best suspect dies a gruesome death.

The second suspect they pursue during a bullet-riddled chase dies at Armando’s murderous hands. A startling revelation during that brief encounter provides Mike with the clue to identify who wants him dead.

Hard as it is to believe, seventeen years have elapsed since “Bad Boys 2” and twenty-five since “Bad Boys.”  Despite all the high-octane explosions and crackling shootouts, Smith and Lawrence resume their comic byplay as if no time had passed. Lawrence has slowed down considerably more than Smith, but his antics will keep you in stitches. Famished franchise fans won’t complain, because the camaraderie between Smith and Lawrence compensates for any narrative shortcomings.

Compared with the first two films, “Bad Boys for Life” is as good as “Bad Boys,” but it lacks the spectacle of “Bad Boys 2.” Nevertheless, “Bad Boys for Life” makes the grade with its nostalgia-driven histrionics. Famished franchise fans won’t complain, because Columbia Pictures has announced the sequel “Bad Boys 4” is forthcoming.

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