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Martin Lawrence may not have starred in a motion picture for close to a decade, but he has a special place in my life. When I went to see his dopey 2001 comedy Black Knight, it was the first time I truly laughed with abandon post-9/11. With absolute seriousness, I will be forever grateful. So, while Bad Boys for Life has a completely asinine story, generic action, predictable plot beats, moronic dialogue and truly reprehensible politics, I still had a good time.
Lawrence, who can tell an entire story on his face in one reaction shot, must shout “Oh shit!” a hundred times in Bad Boys for Life. Each time it is funny for a different reason. He uses an exclamatory “Oh shit!” the way Rembrandt used oils. If he was endearing as a young man, he is doubly so at the age of 54, with his Bad Boys character Marcus Burnett a new grandfather eager to retire from the Miami police force. He needs glasses for distance, is infrequently intimate with his wife and hears the Barcalounger calling to him. “All our lives we’ve been Bad Boys,” he says in one of the film’s more humiliating moments. “Now it’s time to be Good Men.”
Marcus’s partner, however – the never-married Mike Lowery (Will Smith) – is forever committed to putting the baddies behind bars. Oh, who are we kidding? Lowery’s modus operandi here, as in the two previous Bad Boys films, is to turn lawbreakers into Swiss cheese with a barrage of bullets, or just blow them up. Good luck finding a film with a more lusty zeal for the militarisation of the police force.
This latest chapter, directed by the Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Billal Fallah, comes 17 years after the last from explosion auteur Michael Bay (who makes a cameo appearance here). The Miami PD has a new hi-tech division with drones and tanks and Arbi-Fallah’s camera drools over the weaponry more than it does over the scantily clad Florida women hanging out at the nightclubs. In one scene, when our heroes prep to go out into the field, they are forced to use rubber ammunition or “ACLU bullets”. Smith (and the movie with him) scowls at such an indignity.
The Boys’ new crew is led by Smith’s maybe-some-day love interest Rita (Paola Núñez, in her first English-language feature), a striking and tough woman who, by Hollywood standards, is an age-appropriate match. (Smith is a mere 10 years Núñez’s senior.) Also in the squad is Vanessa Hudgens (given very little to do), the enormous Alexander Ludwig (playing against type as a hacker) and Charles Melton, meant to represent a new breed of Bad Boy.
The team of screenwriters (Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan) are clearly trying to kickstart some kind of Fast and Furious group dynamic, but of the newcomers, only Núñez and Ludwig have any pizzazz. Regardless, the stars of the show will always be Smith and Lawrence, cussing at each other as they speed through traffic bashing into things and making things blow up. Apart from one shot that tilts the camera on its side as if you are playing your Xbox while lying down, the action scenes lack any real wow factor. What works, though, are the reactions: the screams, the swears, the quibbling between the cringing Lawrence and tough-guy Smith. It’s a formula too sweet and smooth to deny.
But to simply dismiss Bad Boys for Life for being too far-fetched and violent is to close yourself off from its very real charms. There are plenty of cop-loving action movies that are reprehensible. Lawrence and Smith have that self-fulfilling X Factor. If Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had a grenade launcher, it would end up a little like this.
• Bad Boys for Life is released in Australia on 16 January and in the UK and the US on 17 January.
Source: The Guardian
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