Smith and Lawrence roll back the years, if not the mileage in Bad Boys For Life (2020)

Having spent a decade (and the best part of a billion dollars) smashing whirling dervishes of tinfoil and glass against each other in the “Transformers” franchise, it’s easy to forget that Michael Bay’s directorial style was almost fully formed when he made his directorial debut with “Bad Boys”. Although he also directed its louder, brasher, more obnoxious sequel, Bay isn’t back in the director’s chair for this belated third outing, although he does turn up in a cameo as a wedding MC.

As Detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) adjusts to life as a grandfather and contemplates retirement, his partner Mike Lowery (Will Smith) is determined to keep on living his best life. But a breakout from a maximum-security Mexican prison spells trouble for Mike as a vengeful cartel widow cuts a bloody swathe through everyone involved in locking her up.

Bay may not be in the director’s chair any more but co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are careful not to stray very far from his tediously bombastic style for this threepeat of Miami mayhem. Scenes are drenched in tones of ochre and amber, there’s copious jocular bickering between the two leads and, of course, abundant vehicular destruction and an almost endless ejaculation of ordnance and ammunition.

The most curious thing about “Bad Boys For Life”, though, is the story’s structure – one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. At first, you might think it’s some kind of clever, non-linear conceit but then it becomes clear that no, it is linear, it’s just got any normal movie’s final act and coda at the beginning and where other movies might end, it just keeps right on trucking. It’s almost like you’ve taken your seat just in time to watch the final half-hour of one movie and then the sequel just starts carries on without pausing for breath.

Smith and Lawrence effortlessly recreate their onscreen chemistry – in truth the only thing which makes these movies watchable – and while, thanks to their advancing years, they lean ever more heavily into the “Lethal Weapon” knock-off this series has always been, their likability helps smooth out the movie’s uneven structure and scattergun plotting. To compensate for its stars’ waning stamina, the movie introduces a team of new recruits who drop in and out of the action as whatever set-piece is next requires and while they’re largely thinly written stereotypes, Vanessa Hudgens and Alexander Ludwig make a good impression and hopefully the whole gang will be back in the already announced fourth outing.

As for the bad guys, there’s a third act twist which strains credibility but the bad guys and gals are bloodthirsty and ruthless enough to bring some real peril to the heroes and while it’s not a horror film (despite a weirdly tentative flirtation with witchcraft) this third “Bad Boys” movie at least obeys Randy Meeks’ rules for surviving the third chapter of a trilogy almost to the letter:

  1. “You’ve got a killer who’s gonna be superhuman. Stabbing him won’t work, shooting him won’t work. Basically in the third one, you gotta cryogenically freeze his head, decapitate him, or blow him up.”
  2. “Anyone, including the main character, can die.”
  3. “The past will come back to bite you in the ass. Whatever you think you know about the past, forget it. The past is not at rest! Any sins you think were committed in the past are about to break out and destroy you.”

Mercifully shorter than its bloated predecessor, it’s a fun if forgettable way to pass the time if you’re in the market for some undemanding action fun but it does pose a more troubling question given it arrives hot on the heels of “Gemini Man” which features Smith taking on a similar adversary: does Will have some issues he needs to work out with Jayden? Hopefully, he’ll sort it out before we all have to endure “After Earth 2”.