Why you may never see Bad Boys 3

Believe it or not, it's been more than 20 years since Will Smith and Martin Lawrence took their talents to South Beach for the action-packed buddy-cop classic Bad Boys. A pitch-perfect mix of high-octane action and humor, it made film stars of both Smith and Lawrence while putting then-unknown director Michael Bay on the map—and made a whopping $65 million in U.S. theaters against its relatively modest $19 million budget.

Those numbers were enough for Columbia Pictures to greenlight a sequel, and eight years later, we got Bad Boys II. The "Bayhem" was bigger, louder, and a lot more expensive the second time around, but it was still an awful lot of fun…and it proved another lucrative investment for Columbia. Talk of Bad Boys III started while II was still in theaters, but after years—and countless fits and starts—we're still waiting. At this point, there are more than a few good reasons to think a third Bad Boys may never happen.

'In Production' translates to 'In Hell'

For the better part of 15 years, Bad Boys III (a.k.a. Bad Boys for Life) has been in some degree of active development—and if you think that sounds like a long time for a film to be "in production," well, it is. That's especially true for a blockbuster franchise installment. Most studios would've killed the project and moved on years ago, but both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have maintained interest in returning to the franchise. The long-gestating project seemed destined to finally get in gear two years ago, when Columbia announced Joe Carnahan was coming aboard to write and direct the sequel.

Post-Carnahan carnage

Fans had good reason to be excited when Carnahan took control of the long-awaited sequel. The director's work on films like Narc, The A-Team, and The Grey proved he had a strong command of the sort of chippy dialogue and enormous set pieces that made the previous Bad Boys films so entertaining.

When Carnahan turned in his script, it was so well liked that studio execs actually announced plans for a fourth film, and even went so far as to give each film a release date. Somewhere along the way, however, enthusiasm faded, and the project once again stalled; after several scheduling bumps, Carnahan announced he was leaving the project, forcing the studio to pull both films from its slate. As of this writing, no new release dates have been announced.

No Bayhem for these Bad Boys

After Carnahan took his leave, Michael Bay seemed the obvious choice to take the reins. After all, the original Bad Boys was his first feature film, and love it or hate it, it's as confident and stylistic a debut as you're likely to find in any filmmaker's credits. Bay's history with the material, and his ongoing relationship with franchise producer Jerry Bruckheimer, led many fans to believe Bay was the only director capable of bringing Bad Boys III back to life. The director may have inadvertently stoked the flames of fandom by stating his desire to change course after directing his final Transformers film.

Alas, it sounds like Bay's post-Transformers plans don't include reclaiming the director's chair on a new Bad Boys film. In a recent interview with Fandango, the director is quoted as saying, "It's taken a long time to get that thing going, and I'm not involved in getting it going." Call us crazy, but that seems like a pretty definitive no.

Will Smith is Will Smith

As it happens, finding a new director may be the least of BBIII's problems. Since the release of the first film, Will Smith has gone on to become a highly in-demand actor; to call his work schedule complicated is an understatement at best. 

Smith appears more than eager to get back into character for another Bad Boys—once the third and fourth installments were greenlit, he cleared a chunk of his schedule. Needless to say, that time is precious for a star of Smith's caliber. Unless producers can fill BBIII's director's chair in a hurry, Smith will likely be looking to fill it with another project or two—like the live-action Aladdin we've been hearing so much about, or that already greenlit Suicide Squad sequel. Any way you look at it, the door for Smith's involvement in a new Bad Boys film is rapidly closing.

Martin Lawrence is Martin Lawrence

While Smith's star has risen in the 20-plus years since Bad Boys hit theaters, the same can't be said for his co-star Martin Lawrence. After a string of modest hits in the '90s with films like Big Momma's House, Life, and Blue Streak (not to mention a very public nervous breakdown), Lawrence has receded from the spotlight in recent years. One look at the funnyman's IMDb credits over the past decade will lead you to a series of underperforming comedies, straight-to-video misfires, and TV flops. While there's no doubting Lawrence's talents as a comedian, one can't help but wonder if his fading big-screen appeal isn't hindering Bad Boys III's chances.

The buddy-cop comedy isn't what it used to be

Even if Smith and Lawrence reclaim the comedic chemistry that made the first two Bad Boys films so watchable, we have to question whether there's room in the "buddy-cop/action comedy" genre they helped shape. That genre was a Hollywood staple through much of the '80s, '90s, and early '00s (the Lethal Weapon series, the Rush Hour series, etc.), but the action part of the equation has given way to comedy in recent years, as seen in hits like Ride Along, The Other Guys, and Bay's own Pain & Gain.

While there's no shortage of laughs in the previous Bad Boys entries, those films were driven just as much by Bay's "bigger is better" approach to set pieces and style. So the question becomes whether a new Bad Boys film should deliver the same mix of style and laughs, or go the way of more recent buddy-cop outings. It's easy to imagine that Carnahan's script found the right mix of both, but will the director and/or writer who replaces him be able to do the same? 

Too much time has passed

It's important to remember that roughly 15 years have passed since a Bad Boys film was in theaters. That gap has seen dramatic shifts in everything from comedic styles to political awareness. One thing the franchise still has working in its favor is that race remains a hot-button issue, and a truly hilarious racially charged comedy could really resonate with modern audiences. 

The same may not be true of the Bad Boys "blow everything up and ask questions later" approach to police work. With strife between law enforcement and the community unfolding in the media on a daily basis, producers have to be a little worried about playing larger-than-life tactics for laughs—but leaving that element out may ultimately undercut much of what makes Bad Boys, well, Bad Boys. And in the age of Wonder Woman, it's worth wondering whether producers are really eager to release an expensive, testosterone-fueled action flick.

Did we mention there's no release date?

Again, the film was taken completely off of Columbia/Sony's release schedule when Carnahan departed the project—and the studio hasn't brought it back. While release dates are often shuffled around in an effort to maximize a film's opening weekend box-office numbers, it's rare that a project is taken completely off a studio's slate—and the ones that do disappear almost never find their way back. 

That doesn't necessarily doom Bad Boys III to purgatory. With no director on board, producers may just be taking a moment to retool the entire project before trying to move forward again. Of course, they may also be re-evaluating the validity of the project altogether. Recent comments from Martin Lawrence certainly seem to point to the latter: it sounds like Columbia/Sony are no longer taking calls for these Bad Boys. 

Here's why we still need Bad Boys III

That being said, the best way to see whether Bad Boys III is worth the risk may be to go ahead and make the movie, if for no other reason than that it features two lead actors of color—and they're the heroes. Even with the relatively recent emergence of African-American stars like Anthony Mackie, Michael B. Jordan, and Chadwick Boseman, Hollywood still needs to acknowledge the staggering shortage of black heroes on the big screen. Whenever producers have the chance to put talented performers like Smith and Lawrence to work and fill that enormous void, they really need to take it. So let's hope the studio finds a way to get Bad Boys III into theaters sooner rather than later…and how about hiring a woman of color to direct?