From the Archives: Bad Boys For Life: a fast and furious lethal weapon

From the Archives: Bad Boys For Life: a fast and furious lethal weapon

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

It wasn’t until recently that I had seen any of the Bad Boys movies, but in anticipation of the latest entry, Bad Boys for Life, I decided to give them a shot. The first film, which was also Michael Bay’s feature debut, was a total disappointment. The action was stale, the humor was dated, and the chemistry between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence was not great. In fact, the most notable thing about it is that it’s much less a two-hander than it is a Martin Lawrence movie with Will Smith as a sidekick. It makes sense to be this way, because at the time of release (1995), Lawrence was the bigger star.

By the time Bad Boys II was released in 2003, almost a decade after the original film, not only had Will Smith’s fame well surpassed Lawrence’s, it had surpassed pretty much everybody’s. At the same time, Michael Bay had become an auteur in his own right. As such, Smith’s part was much beefier, and the action on display much more creative and crisp. The technical term is “Bayhem” and it’s on full display. With Smith at the forefront, the chemistry between the leads works much better, and the humor they deal in is gleefully crude — something we rarely see in action cinema anymore outside of Deadpool. Basically, with Bad Boys II, the series had found its footing by becoming a sort of nouveau Lethal Weapon 2. Meaning, of course, that logic and physics go out the window, while goofy banter and high-concept action scenes win the day.

See also: Declarations that it’s time for retirement on account of age.

Seventeen years later, it’s time for the third (and if the producers’ wishes come true, far from final) entry into the saga of Detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett. Even without Michael Bay behind the lens — here serving as a producer — the draw to these two uncommonly compelling characters is strong. And after the hilarious cameo Lawrence gave us in last year’s The Beach Bum, it’s easier to ditch the knee-jerk cynicism one would typically take into an unnecessary trilogy-capper such as this.


In a purely Lethal Weapon 4 fashion, Bad Boys for Life begins with what looks like a high speed car chase. Detective Lowrey (Smith) is drifting around corners, yanking the e-brake, and maneuvering through traffic with glee, while the decidedly stuffier Detective Burnett (Lawrence) squeals nervously, offering color commentary from the shotgun seat. But anyone whose ever seen a movie before knows that this is all just a silly gag. No, our heroes are not pursuing criminals. They are on their way to the hospital, where Burnett’s now-adult daughter is giving birth to his grandson! Yep, our Bad Boys are growing up.

Well, not Lowrey. While Burnett decides to embrace his life as a grandfather, Lowrey is still gung-ho about being an “action cop.” No, I can’t think of a better word for what he does. Because let’s face it, the Bad Boys are only “good cops” because the movie tells us they are. In the real world, they’d have been fired and possibly imprisoned a long time ago. Sort of like Riggs and Murtaugh.

Unfortunately for Lowrey, a dangerous person from his past has escaped prison, and is now assassinating all of the authority figures who put her there. Detective Lowrey, for reasons explained in a patently ridiculous retcon, is her number one target. As such, it’s time for the Bad Boys to get together for one last mission.

If not for the R-rating and the crass sense of humor, one could be forgiven for thinking this sounds like yet another Fast and Furious movie, what with all the “one last ride” talk, or declarations of “I had a life before you knew me.” But this isn’t the only way that this latest franchise entry borrows from the films it helped inspire. Between the Bad Boys, the Fast Fambly, The Avengers, the Impossible Mission Task Force, and Xander Cage and gang, an as yet unlabeled trope of modern action cinema manifests: the diverse, highly skilled, excessively weaponized support team.


Yes, much to the chagrin of Lowrey who, outside of his partnership with Burnett, works alone, a team is brought in to help keep the not-retired half of the Bad Boys bros out of trouble. Naturally, this doesn’t work, and explosions start happening on the reg. Even more naturally, this team, which includes Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Nuñez, Charles Melton, and Alexander Ludwig, is the back upon which future franchise entries are set to stand. Sounds dumb, but by the end of this movie, I found myself looking forward to it. They’re a good team.

As for the action, well, there are some big shoes to fill. Love him or hate him, nobody puts together an action sequence quite like Michael Bay, but directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah make a respectable effort. There’s enough of Bay’s influence to keep things on brand, but the duo injects their style into it as well. Granted, I am unfamiliar with their work otherwise, but there are enough touches that feel new to evidence that these are some hungry filmmakers flexing what they’ve got. Gotta love that. There are a handful of moments where the poetry of violence is lost amidst handheld camerawork and aggressive cutting, but they are few and far between. For the most part, it’s clean, exciting, and filled with actual stunt people doing actual stunts. For a movie that could have coasted on branding (I’m looking at you, A Good Day to Die Hard), it’s exciting to see a disinclination to phone it in.


In hindsight, however, it’s not the action that sticks with me, but rather the chemistry between our two leads. After the first film whiffed this aspect, and the second one found it, we’ve reached a point where the writers have the freedom to riff on their dynamic in creative and fun ways (look at literally any Lethal Weapon sequel so see how much mileage a film can get out of good chemistry and a malleable dynamic). Watching these two hilarious characters navigate middle age in opposite ways is endlessly entertaining, and it serves as a showcase for the talents of both performers. Will Smith has been on a pretty embarrassing awards hunt for some time now, yet it’s here, in Bad Boys for Life, where we see his chops being flexed most. Detective Mike Lowrey was once a “Will Smith character,” but the actor has given him new life. Lowrey has undoubtedly grown, and Smith has found the pathos to make it believable. Sure, this ain’t no Oscar flick, but it exhibits Smith’s talents much more than Collateral Beauty ever could.

The real runaway performance, however, goes to Martin Lawrence. All of the big laugh lines go to him. All of the big dramatic moments go to him. In scenes of tension between Burnett and Lowrey, it’s Lawrence’s tremendous character work that keeps things grounded — no small feat in a film only tangentially rooted in reality. Much like the previous film, no on screen event is so tragic that a tasteless joke can’t be inserted into the proceedings, and at this Lawrence is a master. Having to shift from “straight man” to “wild card” on a regular basis, sometimes even within the confines of a single scene is extremely difficult, and Lawrence handles it with the skill of a consummate professional.

I, too, am stunned that I wrote that last paragraph. But hey, good is good, and Bad Boys for Life is good.

Bad Boys for Life opens in Philly theaters today.

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