Opening up with the escape of incarcerated cartel boss widow Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo) thanks to the help of her son, she sets into motion her plan for revenge against Mike Lowrey (Will Smith). Elsewhere, Lowrey and partner Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) race to the hospital for the birth of Marcus' grandson.
With the latest addition to his family, Marcus begins to consider retirement, realizing that he has more years behind him than he does ahead of him, which comes at odds against Mike who continues to live with the mindset of being Bad Boys for life.
Looking to settle their conflict with a friendly competition, they are interrupted by an attempt on Mike's life when he is shot several times and left for dead. Mike survives the assassination attempt and returns to the police force after six months of recovery, looking to track down his would-be killer. Finding that Marcus has retired, Mike is paired with a new police unit led by former flame Lieutenant Rita (Paola Nuñez) and staffed with a younger generation of cops.
Over the past decade we've seen some long-delayed sequels finally make it to the big screen only to be met with a muted response. Films like Dumb and Dumber To, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and Zoolander 2 were all films looking to capitalize on the success of their original movies only to feel like they were made too little, too late.
With Bad Boys for Life originally announced way back in 2013 and only being released in 2020 after years of delays, there was some worry that this third installment would fall to the same fate. Fans of the franchise were also skeptical with all the directorial changes, with Michael Bay not returning for this sequel and his replacement Joe Carnahan departing the project due to all the delays. With their replacements being Hollywood newcomers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, expectations only continued to fall.
Thankfully however, all those fears should be put to rest as Bad Boys for Life gives the franchise a new lease on life and reinvigorates it for a whole new generation. In spite of the 17-year gap between this film and Bad Boys II, stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence effortlessly slip back into their respective roles of Detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett. Even as men pushing their 50s there's a sense of familiarity for audiences who grew up with these characters and a sense of reassurance that they're still the lovable duo we were introduced to back in 1995. That said, this sequel proves that you can teach an old dog new tricks as the film packed some truly genuine surprises, from fun recalls to the previous films as well as unexpected narrative turns.
Though the main themes feel familiar and reminiscent of fellow buddy cop franchise Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys' take on it still feels refreshing and offers a different challenge for Smith and Lawrence. There's a sense of maturity that this story brings to these characters and both actors are able to tackle it with aplomb. Smith's ability to act dramatically should come as no surprise, but for Lawrence this was a bit of a revelation. Lawrence delivers at every turn with his comedic timing and delivery, but it's the weight he brings with his few dramatic moments that truly surprise and because of that, he easily steals the show as the stronger of the two leads.
On the action front, Bad Boys for Life packs some visually impressive set pieces in the hands of directors Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah and cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert. The trio are able to do their best Michael Bay impression, while adding their own spin to give the film a style that is consistent with the franchise, but unique to these filmmakers.
Admittedly, the film does feel like a scaled-down production compared to the first two entries, as evidenced by its $90 million production budget in contrast to Bad Boys II's $130 million production budget. Part of the franchise's charm was the chaotic carnival of Michael Bay's excessive and gratuitous style, and compared to that Bad Boys for Life is pretty streamlined and restrained. That isn't to say it's a bad thing, but those who enjoyed the seemingly cocaine-fuelled chaos may be a bit underwhelmed.
The additions to the franchise in the form of Lieutenant Rita (Paola Nuñez) and her A.M.M.O. unit comprised of Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), and Rafe (Charles Melton) are solid, if underutilized, while the return of Joe Pantoliano is a welcome one to balance out the cast.
They're obviously there as new blood to keep the franchise fresh for new generations, and they do a solid job playing off our heroes with some solid banter all around. All told Bad Boys for Life is quite the crowd pleaser and should elicit a ton of hearty laughs from start to finish -- it's easily an early highlight for 2020. ~Paolo Maquiraya