To analyse Bad Boys For Life on its own terms, as most other critics seem to be doing, would be a disservice to the canon of good-to-great Hollywood films that have been and are being made. Sure, as a buddy-cop movie filled to the brim with gun-fights and corny jokes, the film functions perfectly fine. But the bar doesn’t need to be so low. When considered alongside other, superior crime films, this one is a heaping pile of garbage.
The last movie in the Bad Boys franchise was released in 2003, a sequel to Michael Bay’s directorial debut. Boasting 147 minutes of runtime, Bad Boys II raked in $273.3 million at the box office but was almost universally panned by critics. Despite the film’s commercial success, the decision to revive the franchise in a market saturated with remakes is questionable. Bad Boys for Life confronts a culture whose attitudes toward both police violence and cliché plot twists have shifted in the 15 years since the previous iteration. The film still does its best to make those work while Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reprise their roles as narcotics detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, but it falls short in moving beyond tired tropes.
The two aging detectives play roles familiar to the cop-drama genre. While Marcus wants to retire, Mike does not. Prolonged bickering thus ensues before personal calamities inevitably bring them both back into the fold. Other clichés ticked off include a brash, hot-headed officer whose penchant for danger frightens his female love interest, a good-cop-bad-cop interrogation, a “club scene” featuring familiar female characters in sexy outfits, and a hero who tries to complete his mission alone before being rescued by his friends.
What makes this movie palatable is the indisputable chemistry between Smith and Lawrence. Lawrence, playing an Alexa-using, modern version of the ‘I’m getting too old for this’ guy, gets a laugh at every turn, while Smith does a fine job with the loveable-asshole shtick. As a pair, the two manage to turn this action film into a bonafide comedy, albeit an unambitious one.
Unfortunately, the film’s strengths end there. A high-tech squad that joins the fray plays as a parody of an elite CIA unit, and not in a funny way. Casual references to extreme police surveillance and PTSD aside, the connections that directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah try to forge between Lowery and the techies are embarrassingly stiff, and the primacy of their roles is unjustified.
Meanwhile, the romantic spark between Mike and fellow officer Rita (Paola Nuñez) is non-existent, as Mike repeatedly clashes with her before she decides to love him again for no apparent reason other than narrative convenience. As such, the film reads as if the writers took the narrative skeleton of a buddy-cop film, decided what point A and point B were, and filled in the rest on the fly. The film simply has too many plot points and too little development.
Despite Bad Boys For Life’s mediocrity, most critics are still giving it praise. Part of this seems to be the penchant for evaluating it as a buddy-cop popcorn movie and nothing else. If done this way, a review might stand for a casual filmgoer, but it does a disservice to movie fans who have an operating standard that goes something like ‘Godfather good, Transformers 4 bad.’ Sure, Bad Boys For Life might be good given its commitment to the standard formula for a buddy-cop movie, but by no means does that make it universally good. All films have creative and artistic potential, and by embracing certain genre films as inevitably uninspired, critics are discouraging innovation and normalizing mediocrity.
Film lovers should demand more from critics, just as moviegoers should demand more from the studios that have a stranglehold on the means of film production and distribution. With a trite script, worn out tropes, and unfunny writing, Bad Boys For Life is simply not good.