Bad Boys for Life (aka Bad Boys 3) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Though the buddy cop duo of Mike and Marcus seem to be committed to being the bad boys of law enforcement for over 20 years, their third film seems to take things in a slightly more grounded light. Free from the chaotic direction of Michael Bay, they finally feel like more developed and lovable characters, able to better balance the banter with the charm. In doing so, however, this creates a sort of uncomfortable realization of why Bad Boys seems better suited for the lane of explosions most overblown than thriller elements not as fitting.
The film starts off well enough that it doesn’t look as though it’ll be a typical Bad Boys affair. Martin Lawrence returns to the role of Marcus, now a grandfather and very much looking forward to retirement. Will Smith returns as Mike who isn’t done with the force yet, especially since he has some unfinished businesses. A witch (yes, a witch) is sending a hitman after everyone who wronged her and Mike just happens to be on that list. He is initially gunned down but lives to get his revenge.
Here’s the most interesting aspect. While Mike is undergoing surgery, Marcus prays to his god to save Mike in exchange for not bringing any more violence to this world. That’s a bold promise that Marcus clearly can’t keep because let’s face it, this is Bad Boys we’re talking about. Merely punching out the bad guys and bringing them in for questioning isn’t going to cut it. By their very nature, Mike and Marcus can’t be non-violent. Even a quiet day at home leads to Marcus nearly taking his head off via an accident with a ceiling fan. The problem is the film tries to continue this philosophy with Marcus earnestly until about the second act where it becomes a punchline.
Now, this sort of reasoning is common for an action picture. Some side characters will preach nonviolence and they’ll be proven wrong somehow, either by a villain killing them or the brash hero berating them. Bad Boys For Life showcases this method of living through faith for the main character and only later writes it off as a joke. By that point in the film, everything has kicked into action thriller autopilot with guns blazing and fires raging. That’s all well and good but if all this was just going to lead up to Marcus gleefully shooting a helicopter pilot in the face, why even bother giving him this philosophical aspect that is treated as a mere phase? This seems almost more egregious than anything Michael Bay pulled off in his other films.
If you can distance yourself from that concept as much as the directors seem to do, there is some fun to be had in the picture. Smith and Lawrence have an undeniable chemistry that stands the test of time, becoming the most fully realized and emotional versions of these characters ever. I did enjoy how the story felt more personally motivating, taking a cue from the Fast & Furious playbook of family being the core. Even the action is very pleasing to the eye, featuring car chases and shootouts that are more expertly shot than manically driving. Compared to Michael Bay’s more bombastic approach, it feels weird to say that the sight of Smith fleeing a truck with only a few explosions seems quaint.
Bad Boys For Life is a bit of frustrating picture in that it can’t decide if it really wants to have a life-changing arc of the characters or just settle for typical buddy cop antics. The film meets somewhere in the middle and lets the strong performances carry through most of the film’s cynicism which somehow never feels overblown. The boys may have to sing their titular theme song at least three times during the course of this movie but I’d be lying if I said they couldn’t still carry that tune.