Friday, January 17, 2020

Whatcha Gonna Do?: BAD BOYS FOR LIFE

There’s a new Bad Boys in town, a belated sequel to two early baroque Michael Bay efforts that teamed Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as wise-cracking reckless cops barreling down the heat-stroke, bass bumping, waterfront streets of Miami. This one is Bad Boys for Life. Why they didn’t save that title for a fourth entry, I don’t know. The fact that Bay didn’t return to helm the adventure gives it a style that matches its theme: these guys have to settle down. And so the movie — despite blasting its score and blowing up stuff real good — is a calmer, smoother affair. It may not have the wild stylistic flourish of Bad Boys II’s camera flying in circles through a cramped shootout or hurtling down a hillside as Hummers demolish a tinny kingpin village, but Robrecht Heyvaert’s velvety sun-streaked cinematography has plenty of deep colors and low angles. It looks up at the larger-than-life stars even as the characterizations bring them down to earth. And that’s always the appeal of these movies, the fact that these cops’ behaviors are at once over-the-top and cornball, a serious glowering cool slathered over japing insecurities. Here the plot concerns itself with one of the partners (Lawrence) looking to take a retirement and enjoy relaxing for awhile, and the other (Smith) on a mission to hunt down a mysterious gunman who tried to kill him. Guess which storyline lasts? Of course this means car chases, gun fights, and hand-to-hand combat, often culminating in elaborate pyrotechnic displays. It also now includes a team of youthful sidekicks (Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, and Alexander Ludwig), complete with drone surveillance and hacking skills in addition to professional-quality stunt driving and marksmanship, who highlight the fact that the young heroes of 1995 and 2003 are now, two decades hence, looking a little past their prime compared to the lean, tech-savy, pretty faces next to them. And yet, with swaggering movie star performances set to megawatt dazzle and scene-stealing charm, they’re not going to cede the spotlight easily. As if taking those cues, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, while dutifully fulfilling the look and style of a 90’s action comedy brought into the present day, stage everything simply and cleanly. It’s at a slightly slower pace than it was before, but rocketing forward with the requisite action at regular intervals. It tries to build a moderately heavier emotional architecture — with sentimental family interest, sad twists, and backstory info dumps — but falls back a few times into its creaky ideas of hand-waved police brutality and casual suspicion of masculine emotion. (The screenplay, massaged through a few drafts by a few hands, including action pro Joe Carnahan, who nearly directed, too.) It’s noisy and silly and thin, and reveals just how much Bay’s frenzied style propped up in the earlier pictures. But the stars shine so bright, the action kabooms so loud, and the tropes wring out enough satisfying conflict and suspense that it’s a fairly enjoyable time at the movies anyway.

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