Friday, June 21, 2024

What They Gonna Do: BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE

When Belgian filmmaking duo Adil & Bilall made 2020’s Bad Boys for Life, they did so in the shadow of Michael Bay. He’d directed the first two Martin Lawrence / Will Smith buddy cop actioners in his distinctive style of crass comedy and loud, excessive, explosive spasms of car crashes, gunfire, and fireballs. They’re abrasive, eccentric crowd-pleasers, and their charms have only grown as respect for Bay’s craft has grown as being satisfyingly distinctive and reliably his own in an increasingly homogenous Hollywood blockbuster landscape. How could Adil and Bilall’s film compete with that accrued affection? That they nonetheless pumped out a sleek and muscular movie of shiny surfaces and jokey banter and genuine camaraderie between appealing performers in charismatic star turns was a credit to their skill. But now that they’re back for Bad Boys: Ride or Die, they’ve balanced the scales. It’s fun to see a franchise shift its center of gravity, now half Bay’s and half the new guys’. With Lawrence and Smith as the fulcrum, the style of these pictures has evolved a comfortable late-period energy, leaning even further into the ages of its leads while refining a swooping and fluid mode of pushy camerawork that’s distinctive from Bay’s, while still borrowing some of his best tricks to maintain series’ stylish continuity. That they take a few moments of Bay’s drone camerawork from his latest, and under-seen, Ambulance is a good example of beneficial inspiration. That they structure the movie to give each and every character in the ensemble a satisfying action moment is a sign of affectionate generosity to provide a good time.

With all the style to get carried up in, and affection for the people to power it, does it really matter what the plot of the picture is? At least it’s fun and complicatedly uncomplicated. The Bad Boys are in trouble again and have to shoot their ways out while busting each other’s chops before getting down to business and busting heads instead. They’re on the run after being framed by a crooked cop, so they have something extra charged to prove this time. I’m sure it helps energize the plotting that all involved do, too. Meanwhile, Smith has cranked up his stardom to a megawatt power he hasn’t utilized since his heyday—no doubt trying to remind audiences why they loved him and to forget recent contretemps. Lawrence always takes this series as a chance to renew his most energetic comic speed runs of insults and non-sequiturs. This one gives his character an early near-death experience that gives him a kind of zen Holy Fool energy that crackles in fun new ways off Smith’s posturing toughness. And the directors themselves are fresh off a project that was nearly completed before being deleted and slandered by Warners’ CEO to get the company a tax write-off; no wonder they’re flinging that camera around with a vigor and vitality to amp up every moment for maximum visually-pleasing impact. The action sequences and dialogues alike are given a charging forward momentum and are given glamorous surfaces from the velvety sunsets to the gleaming explosions to the neon-glow-in-the-dark strip club presided over by a scene-stealing Tiffany Haddish performance that swaggers out on a neo-blaxploitation register. The movie hits all the pleasing action notes you’d want and keeps love for its characters center frame—a heightened, goofily-humored, fast-paced, violent pleasure.

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