As I sat in a sold out showing of Bad Boys for Life, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. The crowd cheered within the first 15 minutes, and kept the excitement for the entire 124-minute runtime. It mirrored some of the early Avengers movies, the way that people react to franchises with larger budgets, more films, and way more star-power. But, it didn’t matter, because the idea of one last run with these actors we’ve known for the entire 21st century gave all of us too much interest and in the end, too much joy.
The ‘Bad Boys’ franchise rests solely on the shoulders of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, two men in their 50s fluctuating between A- and B-list status. The original Bad Boys came out 25 years ago and Bad Boys II wasn’t far behind, released in 2003. Both of the first two films were panned by critics, with this new installment far surpassing the others on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and though this shouldn’t be the ultimate barometer, it is the most popular for the regular moviegoer. Bad Boys for Life is the first in the franchise to be certified fresh on the site, the first to be directed by someone other than Michael Bay (6 Underground), and becoming one of the highest box office debuts in the month of January.
For some reason, we love the idea of “running it back” one last time. We go to high school and college reunions 25 years later. We play endless video games against friends growing up. We eat the same meals over and over again. Jokes that were told 15 years prior still make us laugh with friends we haven’t seen in months. And so, movies about taking “one last ride” or “one last mission” or “one last chance at love” become irresistible. For example, Wild Hogs, a film with no real stakes, plot, or critical positivity, ended up making over $250 million at the box office. Almost every heist movie ever made follows the “one last job” mantra and trope, but we still head to the theater in droves. Bad Boys for Life was supposed to be that “one last mission” but because of its success, Bad Boys 4 is now already in the works.
We love these films and these circumstances in life because the stakes are at their absolute peak. It’s a Game 7 for a chance to be a world champion. It’s a do-or-die, a road back to prison or off to the beaches in the Caribbean. Somehow, the last time becomes the most important time. These high stakes sold audiences and critics alike on the Smith and Lawrence combination back again in Bad Boys for Life, with even the characters stating that this is 100% the last go-around.
Smith and Lawrence are joined in the film by old friends like Joe Pantoliano as Captain Howard and new faces like Paola Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, and Alexander Ludwig as the team surround the two veterans. Introduce worthy villains in mom-and-daughter Mexican mobsters Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo) and Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio) and you have yourself a movie. Complete with a cheesy-turned-funny script helmed by Chris Bremner, the film leans heavily on the leads’ age, joking about their eyesight, their fitness, their technological issues, and their mutual understanding that retirement is coming fast.
More than anything, you buy into this film because it’s fun to watch. It’s a joy to reminisce and it’s a blast to be with these guys for one last time. Lawrence takes on the comedic elements, proving he’s still a commendable funnyman, and Smith shoulders the action scenes, giving us a glimpse at how incredible Gemini Man could have been. The two still show their top notch chemistry and play off one another to the audience’s satisfaction. The action sequences find the two in solid form, and the set pieces put against the Miami backdrop make for a gorgeous, ritzy landscape.
Directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah capture the Miami Vice style of a cool, crime-action buddy content, making these characters the best of the best, hilarious, and in this case, past their prime. The directors deserve credit for taking a franchise that looked dead in the water into a welcome, January surprise.
A film that shows its co-stars having 90s amounts of fun, Bad Boys for Life lets the audience in on the joke, and winks at moviegoers every chance it gets. The cast and crew looks to be having a ball, and the audience follows suit. Even if Columbia Pictures ends up making a sequel to Bad Boys for Life, we will always have this version of Smith and Lawrence for their (supposed) one last ride.