‘I’ ON CULTURE
For a change, a sequel did it right. Bad Boys for Life avoided the usual pitfalls of repeats in movie franchises by waiting a while (17 years) and having its main heroes actually dealing with the kinds of life changes that happen to all of us. As a result, the film seems fresh and new. Even better, the jokes are really funny.
The two lead characters, detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are getting on in years, particularly Marcus, who we see greeting his first grandchild right after birth. He wants to retire and watch the kid grow up. Mike, his partner for nearly a quarter of a century, wants to go on. He thrives on the kind of “real life” of a Miami detective where they all drive Porsches and wear designer clothes and sunglasses. But things get tough when Mexican “evil witch” Isabel (Kate del Castillo) escapes prison with the help of her violent son Armando (Jacob Scipio) and wants revenge for the death of her husband.
If you haven’t figured out that Mike was somehow involved, you haven’t been watching movies or television for the past few decades. Armando shoots Mike, seriously wounding both his body and his pride. Mike’s boss, Capt. Howard (Joe Pantoliano), forbids him to get involved in going after the assassin (who has killed others along the way) and turns everything over to a lieutenant, Rita (Paola Núñez), an ex-girlfriend of Mike’s. She leads a high-tech group of really young cops (Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton and Alexander Ludwig). Of course, Mike pushes to get involved. Meanwhile, Marcus is getting really bored in retirement.
Eventually, Mike figures out that Isabel is behind the whole thing and goes down to Mexico to settle things. Marcus tags along. There is a scene in an airplane that may go down as one of the funniest I have seen in years. Eventually there is the usual fight scene and, well, you know.
There is a lot to enjoy in this film. Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah keep the action moving almost as fast as the jokes and are smart enough to make certain that neither gets in the way of the other. Too many films think that snappy dialogue works well when spoken in the middle of gun fights. Here, the action is allowed to flow without cute gags, so it is far more effective. And the jokes keep us going through the slower scenes.
The chemistry between Smith and Lawrence is what powers the film. Smith is quite willing to be the straight man, letting Lawrence have most of the punch lines. Mike is the center of the film, but Marcus gets the really funny commentary. I seldom hear an audience laugh a lot during a movie, but this one did have the folks laughing. And they were enjoying the jokes, often ones poking fun at the characters, who also seemed to be having fun. There are already discussions regarding another film in the series, and if this one is an example, it should also be good.
The supporting cast is excellent. Pantoliano is funny as always but manages to show more than a bit of heart under it. The youngsters (Hudgens, Melton and Ludwig) also get a chance to be more than bit players and run with it. Núñez is a real find. Age appropriate — isn’t it a nice change to have an aging star’s onscreen girlfriend actually older than his children? — she is a beautiful woman who also comes across as both intelligent and her own person, rather than an appendage of the lead character.
One of the things I particularly liked about this film was its simply showing very diverse kinds of people working and caring together, as well as fighting. It is far more fun to watch women shooting and kicking butts of the bad guys than listening to discussions of how well they can do it.
And, of course, watching a couple of veteran comic actors do their thing and show the fun problems we all face as we get older is a real treat. It is easy to identify with them and enjoy all the extra challenges and joys they face. I liked the movie. At a time of year when fun movies are sparse, you might like it as well.