Bad Boys for Life is available on Prime Video from January 4th
One day, when our society has emerged from this age of reboots, remakes, prequels, sequels and franchises resurrected decades later and we can therefore analyze it with a cold head, it will become necessary to trace a natural history, a taxonomy of some kind. Bad Boys for Life, for example, belongs to the large group of “Sequel Tardivi”, those that arrive years if not decades after the previous chapter; and in this group belongs to the sub-division “Late Sequels with Same Original Leads”, not to be confused with “Late Sequels with new leads”. Like almost all the other members of his group, it is therefore a film about aging and the generational clash: we could call them “I’m Too Old For This Shit” movies.
It does not end here! Even within this sub-subgroup there is another fundamental division: that between Sequel Tardivi Fatti per Passione and Sequel Tardivi Fatti per il Mutuo. Bad Boys for Life, fortunately, belongs to the first category, and it is perhaps the detail that most of all saves him from the disaster he risked being, and which in any case he does not fail to touch on several times. There would be, if desired, yet another specification to be made, namely that BBFL it’s actually about halfway down the gray scale that separates STFPs from STFMs; it is significant that Michael Bay is no longer directing, and that even Will Smith was not convinced of the project until the end, and that both had the same motivation, that is “we want too much money”. Passion yes, but also cold admission that Bad Boys for Life it was also born as a money printing machine.
But let’s not go too far into philosophical questions and into the eternal dilemma of who has to balance the fire of art with the desire to earn really a lot of money. Bad Boys for Life it exists because both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence wanted to go back to being bad boys for one last time, as one of the lines most repeated throughout the film states. But it also exists with the knowledge that the two protagonists have aged, that twenty years have passed since Bad Boys II and that it would not make sense to repeat the structure of the first two chapters for the third time. And it also exists with a precise task that goes beyond the homage to the two protagonists: that of revitalizing the franchise, and paving the way for possible sequels (and maybe who knows, a spin-off TV series, a prequel with Will Smith’s son , of the NFTs, everything is now valid).
And so Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote the film with Peter Craig and was originally supposed to direct it, decided to make The Move. La Mossa is a very risky choice (and certainly not born spontaneously from his epiphany but driven by production requests), that of expanding the cast and transforming Bad Boys from buddy cop in ensemble film. Unlike the previous two (II in particular), in Bad Boys for Life the plot is not the excuse to leave room for Smith and Lawrence to do what they want, but it is a very personal story but also, for once, apparently bigger than the two protagonists. Who therefore need other people to work with, with the risk of distorting the perfect dynamics of the first two chapters.
The Move is therefore risky and consists in creating a special team composed of young and attractive people (Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton) led by a former flame of Will Smith (Paola Núñez), and forcing Lowrey and Burnett to collaborate with them, more or less reluctantly, in the search for the killer who tried to kill Lowrey himself and who is serially killing a list of figures linked to an old case involving a drug dealer with the pleasant name of “Benito”. The risk is enormous because science has shown us that one of the things that works least in Late Sequels is precisely the attempt to force the millennial quota into it – think of poor Shia LaBeouf in Indiana Jones IVa film the existence of which many people still doubt today.
In Bad Boys for Lifeon the other hand, the insert works surprisingly well, partly because the screenplay recognizes the primacy of Smith and Lawrence and wisely leaves the rest of the team in the background (we only discover something about the character of Dorn, a very fit hacker), a partly because Rita/Paola Núñez, the leader of the group and as already mentioned Lowrey’s ex-lover, has enough charisma to stand up to the two veterans, and therefore manages to become something more than a plot function.
For their part, the stars of the party oscillate between moments of irrepressible inspiration and others where (especially Lawrence) they bring the scene home a bit on autopilot, making a funny face and exclaiming “oh shit!”. Two talents remain, albeit somewhat tarnished by years and career choices (Will Smith has veered towards drama and has become one of America’s dads, Martin Lawrence has essentially disappeared), and they dress their characters as if time hadn’t passed.
The problem of Bad Boys for Life but it is that time has passed, and the screenplay is keen to remind us all too often. Gags about age, retirement and physical decay abound, and in a couple of cases (including the cold open) are resolved in exactly the same way, demonstrating that there are a limited number of variations on the “I’m too old for this bullshit” theme. The generational clash between the two protagonists and the AMMO team (which stands for Advanced Miami Metro Operations and is a very stupid and therefore perfect acronym), then, is limited to the surface, to a couple of skirmishes between Lowrey and Rita, and is weakened in departure from the fact that the two bad boys originals still act like they’re in their twenties.
We said at the beginning that the plot has more sense and weight than it had in the previous two, but it is also true that neither the villain of the moment played by Kate del Castillo, nor her, ahem, right-hand man (Jacob Scipio) do much to to be remembered; they have, it is true, a notable importance in redefining one of the two protagonists, but other than that they are a generic pair of “cartel villains” who seem to have been generated by a not particularly brilliant AI.
It could be argued that no one is watching Bad Boys for the plot or the villains, but for the action and the jokes. Having said that the second works, the first is scholastic and barely sufficient, and in any case much inferior to the originals for a simple reason: Michael Bay is not behind it, and therefore lacks his desire to dare and to do things without criterion (on the other hand is full of orange skies and artificially saturated colors, we imagine in homage to Bay and the Bruckheimer school). Yes, there are chases and shootouts, but there are few flashes, few things that haven’t already been seen elsewhere and done better; in this, Bad Boys for Life it had no hope of surpassing the originals from the start, and we don’t feel like blaming poor Adil & Bilal for it. That all in all they did the best with the material they had available – a risky material, with a lot of history behind it and with that air of overdue bills that always prejudicially accompanies projects of this type. There was no need, as is almost always the case with Late Sequels, but all in all it could have been much worse.