It’s been 25 years since Will Smith and Martin Lawrence first brandished quick-witted banter together and an excellent yin-yang dynamic in the original “Bad Boys.” Sure, there are more jokes about Viagra, glasses and knee injuries in the action-packed third installment, though the years have only improved their buddy-comedy mojo.
Smith hasn’t lost any of his macho cool as fast-driving, shoot-first-and-read-Miranda-rights-later lawman Mike Lowrey and Lawrence is still hilarious as his slightly more responsible partner Marcus Burnett in “Bad Boys for Life” (★★★ out of four; rated R; in theaters nationwide Friday), a retro affair tailor-made for those who adored the action movies of the 1990s. (Seriously, if you miss the days of slow-motion explosions and hero shots set to a bombastic score, grab your Oakleys and buckle up.)
The threequel not only makes up for 2003’s woeful “Bad Boys 2” but also interestingly showcases Smith and Lawrence’s longtime Miami cops as vulnerable heroes who haven’t lost their knack for wanton destruction or offing bad guys yet have to deal in a real way with the consequences of their careers.
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Mike (Will Smith, left) and Marcus (Martin Lawrence) are longtime Miami partners weighing their futures as cops in "Bad Boys for Life." (Photo: BEN ROTHSTEIN)
After becoming a new grandpa, Marcus finally wants to give retirement a shot, though Mike remains enthusiastic about police work. A vicious new figure named Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio), under the influence of his ruthless mother Isabel (Kate del Castillo), is assassinating the people who took down his late drug lord father. Mike is on the kill list, and after surviving being gunned down by this criminal upstart, he wants to get his own revenge, though Marcus balks when Mike begs for his help.
While Marcus rides his recliner, Mike hooks up with a new high-tech squad of young cops to find his assailant. However, when a tragedy strikes both Mike and Marcus on a personal level, they get together back for one last ride, which ventures from a nightclub raid in South Beach to a fiery climax in Mexico City.
Michael Bay isn’t in the director’s chair for the third film, but without saying too much, let’s just say he hasn’t left the franchise behind. New filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah take the reins for “Life” and pay tribute to “Bad Boys” past with referential callbacks and all-out action sequences: There’s a motorcycle chase that balances gunplay and the two leads’ playful vibe, but also real emotional stakes throughout the narrative for both Mike and Marcus. Marcus especially deals with some heady stuff, including a spiritual crisis that has him vowing not to bring more violence into the world – though he’ll machine-gun a helicopter to save his partner.
Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) is the target for a vengeful villain in "Bad Boys for Life." (Photo: KYLE KAPLAN)
They still have fun, though as actors of a certain age, both Smith and Lawrence bring a needed gravitas. But this is a movie that doesn’t forget new fans: You really don’t need to have seen a previous “Bad Boys” to enjoy this extravaganza of violence, and the new generation of cops – including Vanessa Hudgens of “High School Musical” fame and “Riverdale” star Charles Melton – brings in the younger crowd plus gives the old guys fresh characters to play off. Also, Smith does a “Fortnite” dance for those who didn’t grow up earwormed by the reggae “Bad Boys” theme from “Cops,” still the signature jam of this franchise.
While it focuses more on character moments than absolute Bayhem, “Bad Boys for Life” does feel a bit long and there is a late out-of-nowhere plot twist that feels a little far-fetched even for these movies. Thankfully, neither detracts from the delightful spectacle that comes with Smith and Lawrence fist-bumping and insult-slinging just like it was 1995 again.
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