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Front Page - Friday, January 24, 2020

Critic's Corner: Fun to see ‘Bad Boys’ back on the big screen

I don’t believe anything has surprised me more while watching a recent movie than when Martin Lawrence calls a woman who likes Will Smith “smart and motivated” in “Bad Boys for Life.”

Lawrence says this while sitting at a bar and sharing drinks with Smith, which made it even more startling. If there’s ever a time to expect these two guys to engage in so-called locker room banter, that’s it.

I remember thinking back to “Bad Boys II,”in which director Michael Bay’s camera roamed a nightclub floor peering up at skirts that already left little to the imagination.

“Is this the sequel to that movie?” I wondered.

It is. Arriving in theaters 12 years after the first sequel in the “Bad Boys” series, “Bad Boys for Life” is older, wiser and more socially aware than its predecessors. And it’s a much better movie for it.

Films don’t have to be politically correct. Part of the fun of the earlier “Bad Boys” movies, I guess, is how the hard R rating reflected the personalities of the main characters – Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Smith).

But with “Bad Boys for Life,” the series has matured along with its lead characters, which makes more sense than if the two cops still had the mindset of men whose years had outdistanced their emotional development.

That said, Burnett is further along the continuum than Lowrey, with the former aiming to retire and spend time with his newborn grandson and the latter still planning to take out bad guys until he’s 100.

The divergence creates some tension between the two men until an attempt on Lowrey’s life lures Burnett back into action for one more case.

“One last time?” asks Smith, like he momentarily thinks he’s making a “Fast and Furious” sequel.

“One last time,” says Lawrence with a fist bump.

You might be wondering if the kinder “Bad Boys” is also gentler. The good news is it’s not. All the other things you might have loved about the preceding films, including the salty language, hip-hop attitude and over-the-top action, are present and accounted for.

In other words, don’t sweat it: “Bad Boys for Life” earns its place in the series.

It also plays on its primary strength, which is the perfect chemistry of its co-stars. Lawrence is hilarious as Burnett, who’s not just on a mission to retire but also on a quest for spirituality. The film milks a lot of laughs out of placing his shifting nature in contrast to Lowrey’s stubborn street cop, bad boy persona.

But really, Lawrence is just funny, every time he speaks or moves. I don’t know how much of his performance was improvised, but if co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah gave him a loose rein, it was one of the best things they did for the film.

And Smith just seems like he’s having a good time. I enjoy him in nearly every role he plays, but there’s something about “Bad Boys” and his interaction with Lawrence that brings him to life in a way other recent roles have not. He was good as Genie in “Aladdin,” but he owns the role of Lowrey.

“Bad Boys for Life” doesn’t ease off the trigger when it comes to action, either. I’d never heard of El Arbi and Fallah until I saw their names in the credits, but I’m paying attention now. While they don’t overload the movie with money shots, El Arbi and Fallah know how to shoot an exciting, coherent action scene and have a flair for eye-popping creativity.

If you see “Bad Boys for Life,” watch for the rotating camera shot near the end, which captures one character firing at another character located on the floor above them. It’s a beauty.

My only gripe about “Bad Boys for Life” (you knew I had to have at least one, right?) is the pedestrian nature of the case. While the criminals are interesting, the CBS cop procedural stuff is not, especially the bits where investigators solve problems with a few clacks of a keyboard.

The most difficult stunt in “Bad Boys for Life” isn’t the rotating camera shot, it’s how the film seamlessly blends nostalgia (Joe Pantoliano returns as Capt. Howard) with a modern mindset.

Also impressive is how the movie combines adult humor and action with genuine heart. Fans shouldn’t be disappointed, and people who were indifferent to the series before might find themselves surprised by how much they enjoy part three.

Which reminds me: That “one last time” thing? Don’t believe it.