Bad Bays For Life review: the sequel that’s grown up just a bit

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Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return, director Michael Bay doesn’t – here’s our review of Bad Boys For Life.

Wherever you stand on ‘bayhem’, filmmaker Michael Bay’s seemingly innate propensity to blow up absolutely everything from every angle, all in super slow-motion, it’s difficult to dispute the lasting legacy left by the fictional Miami narcotics detectives who started it all. His 1995 debut feature Bad Boys, made on an economical $19m budget and clocking in at a lean 119 minutes, stands out not only as something of an outlier in the director’s body of work, but also, in crime fighting duo Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), the film that introduced the buddy cop genre to two of its most popular contemporary sons.

Given their popularity, it’s somewhat surprising then that it has taken this long (the best part of 17 years since the series’ 2003 sequel) for the bad boys of Bad Boys to return to the big screen.

Despite the gap, however, Bad Boys For Life begins in true Bad Boys fashion. Excess has always been the name of the game, and sequences that in most other films might be carefully rationed out over the course of 120 minutes — a Porsche speeding along a crowded beach; a violent prison riot; an ambulance set ablaze; a baby being born — all occur here before five have even elapsed. Once again, any and all regard for protocol, rationale and the notion of a no-claims bonus are immediately kicked to the curb.

But very quickly, it’s apparent there’s a lot more plot to unravel this time around. Unlike the previous two outings, it’s not just flashy sports cars and despicable villains hurtling down the streets of Miami. Change is in the warm Florida air too, not least in Bay’s decision to step back and allow Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah to take the directorial driving seat.

This time, age is finally catching up with Mike and Marcus. Having recently become a grandfather, retirement beckons for the latter. For the former, despite an unwavering aptitude for busting bad guys, the reality of his notoriously masculine bravado becoming increasingly redundant in an age of drones and advanced technology is proving a bitter pill to swallow.

To make matters worse, a ruthless cartel is on the prowl, resurrecting demons from Mike’s past, leaving the ageing duo with no option but to team up with a group of younger, tech-savvy cops headed up by Paola Núñez’s Rita.

With more story to get through and raised emotional stakes, there’s also a greater sense of direction to the narrative path Bad Boys for Life wishes to take. While unafraid to accelerate into its grittier, bloodier action sequences, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan’s story offers a more balanced approach, remembering where the brakes are (and, crucially, how to use them) to ensure the film isn’t without some quieter moments of reflection.

Invoking a similar familial focus to that of the Fast & Furious franchise, both surprise and sentiment lies in wait, even when predictability begins to creep in. Ultimately though, the strength of the film lies in the enjoyably goofy camaraderie of its two leads, bickering and berating one another while bullets whizz by their heads.

Invariably, some gags land more successfully than others, but refreshingly there appears to be a conscious refrain from female objectification and a more concerted effort to avoid vulgar, ethically dubious punchlines.

In the end, it’s no less silly or implausible than its predecessors. Yet in many ways, it’s also a movie that feels altogether more mature. While it earns its moment of unapologetic ‘Bayhem’, the bad boys, it seems, have finally grown up.

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