Bad Boys for Life
It’s surprising to think about, but Bad Boys (1995) proved to be a milestone in modern cinema, launching the careers of both director Michael Bay as well as Will Smith as an action star. The two men would go on to dominate the box office the following decades. The cheesy action flick spawned a sequel in 2003 with Bad Boys II (2003), but few would have expected a third entry to come in recent years, especially considering the insensitive portrayals of women, minorities, and police brutality on screen in previous entries.
Bad Boys for Life (2020) is the third installment in the surprising Bad Boys franchise, and the first one not directed by Michael Bay. This film is co-directed by indie filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. The film follows the famed buddy cops, womanizer Mike Lowry (Will Smith) and prudent Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence). This time, disgruntled figures from their past seem keen to get revenge, as the friends begin to consider their age, mortality, and legacy.
It is no surprise that the film took this long to come to our screens. For one, Will Smith’s paygrade had to lower down after his heated success only a decade ago. However, the bigger concern was probably the outdated narratives of blatant objectification of women, dangerous stereotyping of minorities, inconsequential use of police violence and seeming lack of respect for laws. Because of this Bad Boys for Life has to find the difficult balance of being loyal to the tone of this franchise while also bringing it into the modern world. As such there is an awareness of the inconsiderate narrative decisions of the past, with the additions of more assertive female characters with Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Nuñez, and Kate del Castillo and a more refreshing take on the costs of violence and mayhem. However, such attempts at modernizing the film are not enough to shave off the bigger problems surrounding it.
For one, there is still a blatant racism directed at Latinos. I don’t know why, but Hollywood seems incapable of portraying Hispanics and Latinos as something other than drug-dealing murderers. We saw this incredibly dangerous portrayal in last year’s Rambo: Last Blood (2019) and Bad Boys for Life doesn’t stray far from that level of offensiveness. Bad Boys II had an embarrassing characterization of Cubans with the boring villain (played by Spaniard Jordi Molla), and, while Bad Boys for Life does attempt to fleshing out its villains it is unsuccessful. An attempt is not an achievement, and the underlying message that comes out of the film is still that of: Mexicans = Danger – which is not the inflaming message that Americans need to hear right now.
The chemistry from the leads still retains its magic, with Smith and Lawrence rallying back and forth as if no time had passed. They are certainly the glue that keep the film together and make this flick differentiate from any other generic and forgettable cop movie. However, I was hopeful for the supporting group of young actors that Bad Boys for Life set up alongside them (Hudgens and Nuñez along with Charles Melton and Alexander Ludwig), there were hints of much more interesting characters haunted by trauma in them, but they would get snuffed out with Smith and Lawrence’s show. This causes for a certain clash to occur, between the 90s action cheese that Smith and Lawrence embody, and the more sober and realistic tone that the filmmakers perhaps were aiming at (and audiences seem to be craving in 2020).
In the end, Bad Boys for Life is not as revitalizing an entry as the franchise perhaps hoped for the future series. The film is still dragged down by the outdated aspects of the previous films, and while there are minor successes at updating tropes, they aren’t enough to bring Bad Boys into the modern era. Smith and Lawrence seem to be able to break through the superficial narrative and writing and bring some spice to the unimpressive action scenes, but their partnership seems to be begging for a peaceful end.