Bad Boys for Life (2020)

Bad Boys for Life (2020) Cover

Bad Boys for Life is a hilarious, action-packed thriller that will leave you so entertained that you might miss that you’re rooting for a villain. Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah do an excellent job of capturing Michael Bay’s style, but their film flirts with a redemptive arc that would have our heroes overcome the toxic traits that keep them from growing as characters only to double down and dive deeper into their monstrosity.

We rejoin detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) in their sunset years as officers with decorated careers just as Marcus Burnett is becoming a grandfather. The change in his reality causes him to question the need to regularly put his life in harm’s way and he challenges his long-time partner to a race to determine whether or not they retire together. Before the race is complete, Mike Lowrey is gunned down in the street by a masked assailant. Once recovered, Mike is driven from the shame of being victimized to hunt down his attacker for revenge against the advice and better judgment of everyone who loves him.

Before touching on the things that bothered me, I want to give Bad Boys for Life a lot of praise. It’s a breath of fresh air in the action-adventure genre. Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have brought back a little piece of the mid-90s in a way that feels freshly inviting. The cast has charisma, the dialog is charming, and the action is so loud and dumb that you have to enjoy it for the theater that it is.

Will Smith turns in his best beginning to end performance since Collateral Beauty in 2016. I felt his emasculating shame and his drive to punch everything better. Even Martin Lawrence is so on point that I thoroughly enjoyed his performance from beginning to end and he is an actor I struggle to appreciate. While these performances were front and center, there wasn’t a single weak link in the entire cast and directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah managed to bring the best out of everyone.

The quality with which this naked indulgence is delivered must be seen to be appreciated. I just wish it had something better to say, or… hell… that it said less. The driving action of the film is Mike Lowrey’s need for revenge at the expense of justice, personal relationships, and happiness. This toxic inability to move on with his life and change as a person is the core of the plot.

The directors toy with calling Mike’s character out on his damage once or twice in the film. The moments where the story clearly highlights how his character allows it to hurt everyone he loves are some of the best points we get to experience. Unfortunately, those moments are twisted to double down on the validation of the worst traits of the character. Any moment of introspection is inverted before being repurposed to spell out the theme: when you’re mad, take it out on the people who caused that anger at all costs.

And I couldn’t get past that message. Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if they’d left out the character growth entirely. I know this is an action flick, I am familiar with its heritage and what it’s supposed to be. But it’s not 1995 anymore. In some ways, I don’t think it ever really was. We have seen action done right. We’ve seen how all of the best parts of how these characters make us feel can be achieved with growth and value. We’ve seen that you can blow up every single set and do it with a narrative that advocates doing the right thing and getting over your pain.

You’ll undoubtedly enjoy Bad Boys for Life, it’s a genuine blast. But try not to forget that you’re watching the thrashings of a violent man child. Please see the chaos that follows the character like a cancer and poisons everything he touches.

Final Verdict:An enjoyable thrill ride that is just a little bit toxic.