In a 24-hour block of time, my wife, my son and I watched all three movies in the Bad Boys trilogy. Neither my son nor I had seen any of them, and while I understand why my progeny hadn’t seen them (as he is only 15), why hadn’t I?
I love Will Smith as an actor and rapper; the only thing I regret about my wedding is that I didn’t walk down the aisle to Wild Wild West‘s perfect theme song. And really, that’s not even true, because if “Wild Wild West” is playing, you don’t walk… you ride a fucking horse down the aisle.
I also enjoy Martin Lawrence, especially in this part of his career. This was before he was hospitalized (and nearly died) while, and I’m not kidding, was jogging with a padded suit to train for his role is Big Momma’s House.
Both Smith and Lawrence are charismatic and funny and insanely watchable, and these movies seem to be banking heavily on their star power. It’s really quite strange I hadn’t seen any of these movies.
So, with that in mind, I hunkered down on my couch, got some snacks, surrounded myself with my loved ones, and pushed play. Let’s see what we discover.
To say the Bad Boys films all follow the exact same formula would be simplistic and reductive. It would also be correct.
The films follow two partners in the Miami police department’s narcotics division, Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). Now, you may want to be sitting down when I tell you this, because what I’m about to say is something which has never been done in police films before and this new twist to the genre might stun you. So, strap in, because here is what is the thing about Lowrey and Burnett… these police officers have differences.
Marcus is a family man with a wife (Theresa Randle in all three films) and some amount of children that I was not able to recall or determine. He’s straight-laced and does not like to drive fast, which I guess is the chief characteristic of what makes the dude a square. Meanwhile, there’s Mike, and oooooooh boy, is this guy a loose cannon. He uses his inheritance (maybe his dad was Frederick C. Lowrey, inventor of the Lowrey Organ) to live in a fancy apartment and drive expensive cars. Unlike Marcus, Mike likes to drive fast. This is, apparently, the chief difference between them. And I guess this is supposed to make all the difference.
Mike is also supposed to be a notorious ladies man, playing the contrarian role to Marcus’ married life. That being said, in all three of these films, you only see one woman who clearly enjoys her casual relationship with Mike. Bad Boys II focuses on a relationship Mike has with Marcus’ sister, played by Gabrielle Union. Bad Boys For Life, the third film, has Mike reconciling his past relationships with fellow police officer Rita (Paola Núñez) and the wife of a drug kingpin (Kate del Castillo). Not even Tea Leone, who appears in the first film, is shown making romantic advancements towards Lowrey, though she does confess to Marcus that it’s clear that Mike would be a skilled lover (though does so while believing that Burnett is Lowrey… it’s all confusing). For a man whose identity is continually be told to us is “ladies man”, Lowrey sure seems to be a serial monogamist.
What is surprising here is what Smith brings to these three R-rated movies. For a man who doesn’t have to cuss in his raps to sell records, Big Willie has no problem cursing all through these films, and it’s something I found really unsettling. Someone should tell him that Uncle Phil would not approve of his potty mouth.
The only other characters who appear in all the films are Randle and Joe Pantoliano, who appears as Conrad Howard, the captain of the narcotics division. This might be a surprise, but Howard is continually frustrated with Marcus and Mike’s antics, though understands that they are effective and get the job done. Howard is also bad at basketball, which the films believe is a character trait. Pantoliano is fine, and he knows his job is basically to say stuff like, “It’s time for you guys to do what you do!” and “The chief is breathing down my neck!”
So, knowing that the film isn’t breaking a lot of new ground with character developments or genre expectations, we can begin asking: what do these films give us?
Much like the characters in these films, the plot to each of the Bad Boys movies aren’t bringing us anything new. In fact, they’re pretty much the exact same movie.
The first film takes place in 1995, and has Mike and Marcus working against a strict time deadline while trying to stop a drug deal (Tchéky Karyo), who has taken a pile of seized heroin and cash. The second film, from 2003, has the boys racing against the clock to stop an ecstasy dealer (Jordi Mollà). In 2020, it’s Lowrey and Burnett under a strict deadline while trying to bring down Armando (Jacob Scipio), the son of a drug kingpin whom Mike had busted before he was partnered with Marcus.
So, these films aren’t really doing anything new, even when compared to each other.
There’s no way to get around the fact that the first two films, both directed by Michael Bay, are pretty bad. Not even Smith and Lawrence’s charisma, which are being set to overdrive, can save these films, which are bogged down with too many cliches and not nearly enough substance. The first film was Bay’s debut as a feature film director (he was best known for music videos before this), and that actually helps the film, as he had not yet fallen in love with the concept of using explosions for plot. That allows the film to slow down to let Smith and Lawrence have some true moments, which Bad Boys II is completely void of.
Here’s how you know Bad Boys II is bad: I fell asleep for a good part of the movie, and woke up still understanding everything that was going on. Like, my lack of consciousness didn’t stop me from understanding this paper-thin plot. There is, literally, only one exciting and interesting part of the second film, a continuous circular shot in which are boys are taking on some kind of Haitian gang for some reason.
This feels like the only reason Bay wanted to do this movie; so he could make this scene. Honestly, it’s one of the five best scenes he’s ever done in his filmography, but there’s not enough of this to make the film fun to watch and not enough plot to make the film interesting. It’s crazy to think based on how poor these films are that any studio would want to make a third film.
However, it’s Bad Boys For Life where the franchise gets interesting.
The idea for a third Bad Boys movie started formulating in 2008, though Michael Bay admitted it would be difficult because him, Smith, and Lawrence requires such huge salaries. In 2020, Columbia Pictures solved the problem by not having Bay direct (though he, weirdly, shows up in the film as a wedding DJ). Replacing Bay would be Adil & Bilall, two Belgian filmmakers who have been around for a decade but have never worked with this kind of scale of budget. It was clear that they had a different kind of inspiration. Not to give things away too much, but they were set to make this new Bad Boys a lot more fast and a lot more furious.
The influence that the last four Fast & Furious movies had on Bad Boys For Life could not be more evident. Much like Fast Five introduced most of the current cast so that Vin Diesel could have his merry band of heist cohorts, this new Bad Boys gives Lowrey and Burnett a fun team to work with, filled with a lot of forgettable faces and also Vanessa Hudgens. Together, they all have to come together to take down the bad guys. It’s almost like they become… a family.
Aldi & Billal also turn the action up a notch, which is hard considering they’re following the work of Bay, who has been described on twitter as being the product of “his mother and an explosion”. Where Bay seems to love things blow up, Aldi & Billal are interested in bringing some style and finesse to the action scenes. They’re willing to use color and style with their camera that Bay only gives us in one shot over two films.
It’s honestly these choices that would have me excited if more of these films came out. With new directors, this series found new life. There’s a reason why Bad Boys For Life has a better Rotten Tomatoes’ score than the other two films combined. Clearly, what the series needed wasn’t just two good actors riding together… but they had to ride (and live) a quarter- mile at a time.
Bad Boys (1995): 7.2
Bad Boys II (2003): 6.1
Bad Boys For Life (2020): 8.1