Bad Boys: Ride or Die is the Fast Five of Lethal Weapon movies

Bad Boys: Ride or Die is the Fast Five of Lethal Weapon movies

Like the JFK assassination, 9/11, and the death of the Crocodile Hunter, everyone who was alive at the time remembers exactly where they were when they first saw the clip of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars. This utterly classless move led to one of the most embarrassing acceptance speeches of all time, and effectively got Smith banned from any Academy events for a decade. To his credit, the telecast was one of the worst in the show’s history and Smith’s decision to assault one of the greatest comedians of all time instantaneously made it an iconic evening. It was a truly shocking moment, and I’d bet every dollar I have that Smith, who was a shoo-in to win the Best Actor Oscar, showed up cocky as all hell and high on cocaine. 

Seriously, it was textbook cocaine behavior.  It was also textbook “having recently been very publicly cucked by his wife, a person who seems incapable of experiencing joy” behavior. 

Once the dust settled and we all remembered that celebrities are merely a shared illusion, one thing became clear: the era of Will Smith churning out bad-to-middling dramas in search of Oscar glory are finally behind us. It’s now the second coming of Will Smith the blockbuster movie star. A new Willennium, if you will. Will you? Will Smith?

This, I believe, is how we find ourselves facing down a fourth Bad Boys movie. It’s hard to fathom that there was even a third entry, and even harder to comprehend that it was pretty awesome, but somehow they pulled it off. Still, it felt like the end of the series, with the titular Bad Boys Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) embracing their age and their mortality, both choosing to focus on the important things in life rather than continuing to do impossible action things while getting everyone else around them killed in the process. 

It’s at this point when most series tend to either flare out or call it a day. Opening up a closed book to add an additional chapter almost always ends up feeling at best, contrived, and at worst, frustratingly cynical. They already tempted fate with Bad Boys For Life and managed to put together a solid ‘closing’ chapter (thanks in part to an unexpectedly moving performance from Martin Lawrence). Can they do it again?

Well fuck my ass and call me a fuckass — lightning has struck again. Bad Boys: Ride or Die is a worthy entry to the series and a damn good time at the movies. And if it ends up being a true series finale, it’s a goodun. I’m glad that the powers that be chose “ride.” 

Ride or Die, much like its predecessor, exists because of substantial retcons that work miraculously well. Remember when Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) was killed by Lowrey’s estranged son (whose whole existence is a retcon)? Well it turns out that the young assassin didn’t shoot Howard for reasons of his own. Nope, he actually being paid to do it by a cabal of baddies looking to frame Howard for corruption. The frame-job seems to be working, but it doesn’t sit well with the Bad Boys (I’m calling them that), who love the man so much that his framed photo is prominently featured at Lowrey’s wedding. Lowrey, who is no longer dating any of his previous character arc-ending flames, is now married to the physical therapist who helped him survive being shot in the last movie (her existence is also a retcon). During the wedding, a dancing Burnett has a heart attack, which allows the film to really lean into the “we’re getting too old for this shit” angle that was previously milked in part three. Since nobody believes in Howard’s innocence, it’s up to the Bad Boys to clear his name. Naturally, this causes a lot of action to happen. 

With this fourth, and hopefully final entry, the Bad Boys franchise finds itself squarely in Fast & Furious territory. I’d say most specifically around the Fast Five era of the series: earnest, ridiculous, and still taking itself seriously, but not so much so that they can’t get away with murder, so to speak. By utilizing a strong supporting cast of faces both old and new, and playing every hard-to-swallow retcon with a straight face, Bad Boys: Ride or Die finds the sweetest of sweet spots. Burnett is hilariously woo-woo because of his near death experience. Lowrey is less gung-ho because he’s finally found love. The young, hip team of cool kid cops introduced in the previous film have their own internal conflicts that keep their existence from feeling like baggage (and Vanessa Hudgens remains cute as a button). The drama between Lowrey and his son is milked for both action and drama, and it WORKS. Even Reggie, Burnett’s son-in-law, who first made an appearance in Bad Boys II, is given ample room to shine. I’d say he even steals the film. 

Note: Dennis Greene, who plays Reggie, has only ever been in Bad Boys movies. He has never played another character in his whole acting career. 

With a cast so stacked it’s impossible for a few characters not to be left by the wayside, and unfortunately, a plot line involving Rhea Seehorn, here doing her best Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, ends up feeling underused. Partially because there’s just no room for her, but mostly because she’s so good in her small moments that it leaves one wanting a lot more. Give me a movie DEVOTED to her as a badass cop seeking revenge. Give me two. 

Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah once again manage to imbue the film with their own unique style while still remaining in the Bayhem wheelhouse. They’ve even absorbed Bay’s usage of drones, but they do so in a way that’s wholly their own. It’s only a matter of time before they become household names amongst film nerds. Their original film Rebel is an out-and-out masterpiece, and their franchise work (Ms. Marvel, Bad Boys) is the rare instance of a filmmaker’s visual sensibility transcending IP limitations. Their action work has a ton of energy, and short of a few too-quick cuts during moments of fisticuffs, remains exciting and unique. Their style shines in non-action moments as well. It’s a fine line to ride when aiming for kinetic camerawork without constantly announcing directorial presence, and it’s a line they walk with near perfection. Ride or Die is always lively, but it never feels gaudy. There are even a handful of sequences that succeed at creating surreal, painterly images — not a series standard by any means. 

(Hey WB, release Batgirl)

At the end of the day, the Bad Boys series is and always has been an excuse to get Will Smith (who, despite my silly opening paragraphs, is not at all on my shit list) and Martin Lawrence in a room cracking jokes and surviving impossible action sequences, and on that front Ride or Die delivers. So even as we reach that point where any further entries will surely topple this over into the world of unwieldy gobbledygook, I must pay mad respect to everyone for driving this shiny sports car right up to the edge. We’ve reached the Lethal Weapon 4 of Bad Boys, and it kicks all of the ass while making me care deeply about the characters doing the ass kicking. This is the perfect end to a mostly great series, and also it has a giant albino alligator and a scene where Will Smith knowingly gets slapped multiple times by Martin Lawrence. All is right in the world. 

And yes, I’ll watch another one if you make it, but maybe don’t do that, okay? Do Wilder Wilder West or something. 

It should also be noted that while the filmmakers likely initially lamented the fact that Bad Boys For Life was already used as a title, and they could thus not capitalize on calling this one Bad Boys 4 Life, I’d bet they breathed a sigh of relief when recent developments in the life of one P. Diddy made it seem less like a squandered opportunity than a dodged bullet.

Directed by Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah

Written by Chris Bremmer, Will Beall, George Gallo

Starring Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Vanessa “Cute as a Button” Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig

Rated R, 115 minutes