It’s been 25 years since Will Smith and Martin Lawrence teamed up for the first time in the hilarious buddy cop action movie that became the best use of the COPS theme and a pillar in 90s action: Bad Boys. Now, like many action stories from the 90s, they’re back for a third time with Bad Boys For Life.
Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and written by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan, Bad Boys For Life picks up 25 years later. Marcus’ daughter is starting her own family, Marcus is ready to retire, and Mike, well, Mike is still trying to be in the thick of it, pushing off anything that isn’t his cop life. Legends in the police department, life changes have pushed the two onto different paths for their lives but, when a leader of a Mexican cartel rears her head, those around them are put in danger. Kept off the case, the newly created elite team, called AMMO, of the Miami police department work the case and help Mike and Marcus go up against the cartel. But the twist, it’s not at all what it seems.
The first thing that needs to be applauded in Bad Boys For Life is that it embraces the aging of its stars and the world around them. More specifically, unlike other revisits to old action stories, this next chapter doesn’t shy away from showcasing how its leads have changed. In fact, it centers its story on how time affects their line of work and the two journeys available to them. For Marcus, his life is about his family, and that means giving up the violence and the investigating. For Mike, as he becomes a target, fighting the rising danger is his only answer. The two characters balance each other extremely well and the actors behind them roll into their chemistry as seamlessly as they did in 1995.
In fact, Bad Boys For Life avoids the trappings of sequels coming so long after their counterparts by doing its best to keep the dynamic relationship and jokes between its lead strong while also updating the jokes to our current time. There wasn’t once when I cringed, which I can’t say for other revivals in the same genre with older actors reprising their roles. But, even with that, the humor is unique to the two characters. It fits the Marcus and Mike we know, it’s irreverent, hilarious, and I’m not going to lie, there are a few jokes about a bruja in there from Marcus that had me in stitches.
With all of that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t break down how the use of the cartel in Bad Boys For Life looks from my lens as a Mexican American. The film has moments that take place in Mexico City, and the main antagonists of the film are Mexican cartel leaders. To be honest, when I first realized that this was the plot, I rolled my eyes. I’m tired of cartel stories. They’re regularly uninspired and filled to the brim with problematic stereotypes especially when told from the United States’ perspective.
The largest pitfall of this story beat is the use of Santa Muerte in the film. A folk Religion in Mexico, more specifically used by cartels and those who are victims of their violence in Mexico City especially, the depiction on the screen is weird. I don’t truly have a way to describe it differently. It’s one of those representations that was obviously taken because of its aesthetics without truly understanding the practice but kind of shows some of the things involved. To be honest, this was proof – coupled with the awful new Penny Dreadful trailer – Hollywood has found Santa Muerte and it’s going to be a long fad of misunderstanding and misrepresenting the worship around her. Now, these are all of my own issues, and none of which detract from the film.
Additionally, even with my own hang-ups of cartel storylines, Kate del Castillo rocks her role as the wife of the cartel boss. She’s intimidating, she’s fierce, and her fearlessness is amazing to see on screen. Plus, we also get Jacob Scipio as Armando, her son. His fight choreography is the best in the film and I hope to see him land more physical roles like this one in the future. Bad Boys For Life also puts Mike intimately linked with the cartel and the people pursuing him and Marcus.
The film also has Rita on our duo’s side. Played by Paola Nuñez, Rita is tasked with leading AMMO, the young tactical team that features Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton that offers support to our leads. Rita is in many ways the stereotypical Latina, she’s passionate, sexy, and of course an ex-love interest for Mike. But at the same time, she’s capable, she’s strong, and she’s a leader. In a small way, she works to bring balance to the cartel narrative, she’s a “good one” which raises its own problems since Nuñez is a Mexican actress, but at the same time, her subversion of some ingrained roles for Latinas is appreciated.
But Rita and AMMO exist to do more than just bring representational balance. They also serve a vital part in balancing the action sequences, helping some of Mike and Marcus’ wins be more believable. Beyond that, each action sequence uses the physical abilities of Lawrence and Smith against each other, using the AMMO squad as support to fill in the gaps in a wholly believable way. Marcus isn’t necessarily in shape, nor does he want to be. But, since Mike still is, and Smith is still an action star at the end of the day, he needs someone by his side as he enters some of the crazy firefights and action scenes. This is where AMMO comes in, and works extremely well in not only bringing new characters and talent to the franchise but also in helping make the action all the more plausible – well as plausible as action in a franchise started by Michael Bay can be. And to be honest, the chemistry of this team with each other and with Mike and Marcus is something that I had no idea I needed. They’re seamlessly integrated into the story in both action and chemistry.
Outside of Mexico and the weird take on cultural practice, the film sings. It’s hilarious and each of the characters pushes both story and humor. But most importantly, it feels tied to the other two films in the franchise through not only Easter eggs but through thoughtful writing. The characters have an impact and the relationships feel real. From the first moment to the last, Bad Boy for Life does the job of showcasing both the continuation of an existing story and recognizing not only how much time has passed but how to improve upon an arguably terrible sequel. This is true even though the story is slightly convoluted in its third act and the reveals somehow feel like they both come out of nowhere but also are entirely predictable.
Bad Boys For Life, is nothing but a good time. It packs some emotional moments, has brilliant humor that fans of the first two movies are surely looking for, and it delivers in grand action set pieces. The fun of the film more than enough to make up for a slightly shaky and some weird cultural representation. It really makes me happy to say that the Bad Boys are back and this is nothing if not a testament to the friendship and comedy that Smith and Lawrence brought to us all those years ago. This film is a damn good time, full stop.
Bad Boys For Life is out nationwide on January 17, 2020.
Bad Boys For Life
Bad Boys For Life, is nothing but a good time. It packs some emotional moments, has brilliant humor that fans of the first two movies are surely looking for, and it delivers in grand action set pieces…This film is a damn good time, full stop.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.