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The 5 Best And 5 Worst Things In Bad Boys For Life

After 17 years, the Bad Boys are back. In Bad Boys for Life, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith return to the franchise that kickstarted Michael Bay's career, but they're not exactly the same cops that you saw before. Keeping the streets of Miami safe for so long has taken its toll on detectives Mike Lowry (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). They're older but not much wiser, and are beginning to realize that they can't keep this up, well, for life.

Not that it matters when Isabel and Armando Artas, a mother-son criminal team, show up for revenge. Apparently, Lowry is the one who busted Isabel and her husband back in the day, and now that she's out of prison she and Armando will do anything they can to make the Miami PD officer's life utterly miserable.

Bad Boys for Life is full of bullets, explosions, and quips, but is it any good? That depends. Bad Boys for Life is an unexpectedly ambitious film that doesn't really pull it all together. If you can overlook some of these flaws, though, you'll have a grand old time.

Best: Chemistry so solid they should teach it in college

It's been more than a decade and a half since they last teamed up, but Smith and Lawrence haven't lost a step. If anything, they've gotten even better. By this point in their careers, both actors have their shticks down pat, and in Bad Boys for Life they deploy their respective charms with military precision. Bad Boys for Life's action scenes are nice to look at but feel largely perfunctory. The banter between the film's two leads is where you'll find the real fireworks.

The supporting cast steps up, too. As usual, Joe Pantoliano steals practically every scene he's in. As Rita, Mike's ex-girlfriend and leader of new Miami's new paramilitary police division, AMMO, actress Paola Nuñez holds her own. Vanessa Hudgens is mostly wasted as a young AMMO recruit but she does her best with what she has, while her teammates Alexander Ludwig and Charles Melton both get a few standout lines.

Still, Bad Boys for Life is Smith and Lawrence's show, and everybody knows it. When the script is clunky and the dialogue cliched, Smith and Lawrence still make it work. When they're given more, they shine. In a different world — one in which Will Smith didn't become the biggest star on the planet — Smith and Lawrence would've been a modern Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Since that didn't happen, we'll take whatever we can get.

Worst: It's Will Smith's world, Martin Lawrence is just living in it

Not all Bad Boys are created equal, and Bad Boys for Life proves it. The third Bad Boys flick is Mike Lowry's movie through and through. He's the one who's targeted by the bad guys. He's the one who has the biggest arc and who changes the most over the course of the movie. He's the one who drives the action forward, the one who's present during the film's most pivotal scenes, and the one who makes things happen.

Unfortunately, that makes Martin Lawrence more of a sidekick than an equal player. In the first Bad Boys, Marcus is very funny, but he's also depicted as a capable cop and legitimate tough guy. In Bad Boys for Life, he's little more than comedic relief. While Mike is out busting heads and chasing leads, Marcus is stuck at home, engaging in sitcom-style slapstick. In the later action scenes, Smith gets to do all of the cool stunts. Lawrence mostly watches and makes jokes. He's very good at that, but it does feel like he's been sidelined.

We get it. Smith has aged better than Lawrence, and he's the bigger star (for the first time in Bad Boys history, Smith, not Lawrence, gets top billing). But Bad Boys is supposed to be a partnership. In theory, that's still true — but in Bad Boys for Life, Smith is very clearly the star of the show.

Best: Aging gracefully

The first Bad Boys came out 25 years ago. Will Smith is now 51. Martin Lawrence is 54. To pretend that they're both young stars in their mid-to-late 20s would be ridiculous. To its credit, Bad Boys for Life doesn't. It lets its stars show their age. It's better for it.

Let's face it, Mike and Marcus shouldn't be able to flirt their way past the bouncer at a nightclub. They shouldn't be able to pull off ridiculously athletic stunts with ease, or instantly charm co-workers half their age. It's all very funny, but it also helps ground Bad Boys for Life in a way that the previous two movies weren't. Lowry and Burnett are still caricatures, but they feel more lived in than ever before, helping sell the drama.

The characters' ages also let Bad Boys for Life tackle an inconvenient truth: To modern sensibilities, Bad Boys hasn't aged particularly well. The older movies are homophobic and slightly racist. Lowry and Burnett's shoot first, ask questions later-style of policing is a little harder to swallow given recent conversations about police brutality. Bad Boys for Life deals with those issues, at least indirectly. Now, Bad Boys for Life isn't a political movie. It's gleefully un-PC — the ACLU and PTSD are both the targets of some vicious jabs — and it has a fantastically high body count. Still, a little self-awareness goes a long way.

Worst: This formula is starting to feel a little old, too

Bad Boys for Life succeeds because of its cast. Its script does them very few favors. Many of Smith and Lawrence's one-liners, especially those in the first half of the movie, feel stale. We've seen a cop pulled out of retirement for "one last job" so often that it's beyond a cliche. Beyond some memorable villains and a couple of plot twists, most of the story is forgettable.

The same goes for the action scenes. After 25 years, over the top, Michael Bay-esque explosion-fests are starting to have diminishing returns. The action gets the job done, but it's not particularly exciting or interesting. For the most part, you've seen all of these shootouts before.

That's less of an indictment of Bad Boys for Life than buddy cop movies in general, but Burnett and Lowry's latest adventure doesn't add anything particularly new to the genre. To be fair, the original Bad Boys didn't either, but that was over two decades ago. Bad Boys for Life is stuck in the mid-'90s. Even then, the formula was starting to get old.

Best: Bad Boys for Life plays for keeps

Bad Boys for Life is the most personal Bad Boys film yet. While the previous two movies pitted Mike and Marcus against anonymous drug lords and generic criminals, the third movie in the trilogy raises the stakes. Marcus has always been a family man, but the one-two punch of a new grandkid and a fresh son-in-law make him think about hanging up his gun and badge for good.

Mike has it even worse: At the beginning of the movie, he's gunned down in a surprise drive-by shooting by an old rival, setting him on the road towards vengeance. The Bad Boys have always been fun to watch, but in Bad Boys for Life they're also relatable. For the first time, it feels like we're getting a glimpse underneath their cool, wisecracking demeanors.

The stakes continue to rise as the movie progresses. The old "One last job" cliche never works out well for the people involved, and it's never clear whether Mike or Marcus are going to survive until the credits roll. One minor but beloved Bad Boys character exits the story unexpectedly about halfway through the movie, and the final act changes Mike Lowry's world forever. There are real consequences for the characters in this movie. For better or worse, Bad Boys for Life matters.

Worst: Why make a point when you could make a joke instead?

On the other hand, Bad Boys for Life raises a number of interesting questions, but it doesn't really address any of them. When Mike is shot, Marcus prays to God and promises that he won't be a party to any more violence. After his recovery, Mike laments that he's lost his "bulletproof" status. He feels vulnerable for the first time in his career, and that makes him exceptionally angry.

Both of those concepts suggest unique stories for the characters, especially in the context of a comedy-action film. However, not only are they more or less ignored, but when they do come up they're mostly played for laughs. Lowry's fury is simply used as an excuse to get him involved with the investigation. Burnett's attempts to keep from killing fuel punchlines, not character arcs, and pay off with Marcus picking up a machine gun and kicking ass.

The whole movie is like that. Alexander Ludwig's character is supposedly traumatized from accidentally killing a man while working as a bouncer, but when he gets his hands bloody again, it becomes an excuse to make jokes about therapy. Now, this is Bad Boys. It's supposed to be fun, not introspective. Still, the film raised these ideas on its own, and it's disappointing that it doesn't have the guts to follow through.

Best: An impeccable sense of style

Directors Adil El Arbi and Billal Fallah are the first people not named Michael Bay to direct a Bad Boys movie, but don't feel bad if you haven't heard of them: Bad Boys for Life is their first major American film. While the duo directed a couple of episodes of the TV series Snowfall and the video for Wiz Khalifa's "When I Grow Up," their two previous features, Black and Patser, are practically impossible to find in the United States.

Expect to see a lot more of them soon. In addition to Bad Boys for Life, Arbi and Fallah are currently attached to Beverly Hills Cop 4, which is set to bring Eddie Murphy back to his most famous franchise. Watch Bad Boys, and you'll see why. While the action scenes might lack some oomph overall, the movie is full of stunning visuals: A slow-mo shot of a molotov cocktail arcing through the air. A shootout in a warehouse filled with pink smoke. An action beat that's filmed sideways.

Arbi and Fallah capture Bay's style without mimicking him completely. They don't move the camera as much, and they give some of the bigger shots more room to breathe. Before Bad Boys for Life, putting anyone but Bay in the director's chair would've felt like sacrilege. Afterwards, it's clear that some new blood was exactly what the franchise needed.

Worst: Search your feelings, you know it to be true

So, about that plot twist...

Without giving too much away, Bad Boys for Life's third act kicks off with a major revelation. As it turns out, Isabel has a much more personal reason for hunting Mike than the film initially lets on. Unfortunately, the big twist comes more or less out of nowhere. It's a secret so big that even Marcus Burnett — Mike's best friend for over 25 years — doesn't know about it.

That doesn't really ring true, and unfortunately, the reveal derails Bad Boys for Life's climax. Suddenly, the breezy action-comedy feels like a drama. Characters utter lines that would be more at home in Star Wars than Bad Boys movies. It sucks all the fun out of the room. Like we said, some personal stakes are good, but this is still Bad Boys. Don't ask us to take it too seriously.

Even worse, it gives Mike Lowry an origin story. Here's the thing, though: Lowry already has an origin story. Bad Boys establishes that Lowry is a handsome, privileged trust-fund kid who always dreamed about being a cop. He takes his job seriously, but he's also entitled and not used to being told no. It's a great, simple backstory that explains everything the character does perfectly. It didn't need to be any more complicated.

Best: The great Bad Boys Easter egg hunt

Bad Boys for Life isn't a Marvel movie. It's not the sort of film that you watch for callbacks, references, or Easter eggs. And yet, somehow, Bad Boys for Life is full nods to the previous two films. Even better, these Easter eggs don't call attention to themselves. They're fun for diehard Bad Boys fans, but series newcomers will find them funny, too.

And boy, are there a lot of 'em. Marcus' quip that the "Bad Boys" lyrics are hard to learn is a throwback to Bad Boys 2, which reveals that he doesn't know the words to his own self-appointed theme song, as is his reference to his one good butt cheek (Mike shot him in the rear in the last movie). Joe Pantoliano's daughter is cursed on the basketball court. In a memorable scene in the first Bad Boys, we learn that Pantoliano's character is as well.

And then, of course, there's Michael Bay himself as the MC at Marcus' daughter's wedding, a cameo that's tailor-made for the film nerds in the audience. Even the kids at AMMO get in on the action. When Will Smith dismisses the young task force as a bunch of High School Musical wannabes, it's not just a sly dig: his co-star, Vanessa Hudgens, rose to fame as the lead of the Disney Channel exclusive.

Worst: Bad Boys 4, coming in 2037

Really? You're going to end Bad Boys for Life on a cliffhanger? Well, okay. That's unnecessary. By the end of the film, Lowry and Burnett have gone through complete arcs. They're no longer young hotshots. They're older men. They're content with their places in the world. Dramatically, there's nowhere else for these characters to go. Besides, it took the better part of two decades to get Bad Boys for Life made. At this rate, Smith and Lawrence will be in their 70s by the time we get part four.

Of course, the more likely scenario is that Sony is positioning Jacob Scipio and the AMMO crew as the leads of their own spinoff, birthing a Fast & Furious-style action franchise in the process. That feels like a mistake. Hudgens, Ludwig, and Melton do well with what they're given, but their characters aren't particularly deep or interesting.

Besides, the heart of the Bad Boys franchise is still the relationship between Smith and Lawrence. Remove that, and what's the point? There are many film franchises that can support an extended cinematic universe. Bad Boys is not one of them.