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Posts Tagged ‘Bad Boys for Life’

Normally, counter-programming is the name for what happens when the cinemas are all clogged up with big dumb studio movies and the smaller distributors sneak out an intelligent documentary or arthouse drama for people who fancy going to the cinema but don’t particularly want to have their brain turned into soup. This being January, however, it’s almost as if the opposite state of affairs is in effect – there are almost too many intelligent, thoughtful, classy and serious films on release, and so to attract people who just want to go and watch a piece of complete mindless junk, Sony have considerately gone ahead and put out Bad Boys for Life, directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. Gee, thanks.

All right, full disclosure: I went to watch Bad Boys for Life in the evening of a day when I had already seen A Hidden Life and Waves (the three films were playing virtually back-to-back) and so I may not have been entirely fresh when I came to it. (It had been a long day, the other two films were both arguably a bit dour, and so on.) But even so: watching Bad Boys for Life straight after Waves, in particular, it was a little hard to process that both films were part of the same art form – compared to Waves, Bad Boys really just resembles an unusually violent and inane piece of children’s entertainment.

You want to know the story? Well, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have both been in a career slump for years, which results in them being caught trying to resuscitate this old franchise (dating back to 1995), and (you would expect) embarrassment all round…

Oh, sorry, you mean the story of the actual movie? Whoops. Well, it opens with Miami cops Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) zooming through the streets of the city in a sports car, cracking wise with each other all the time. As is standard in this kind of sequel, time has in most respects frozen for the seventeen years since the previous film, so they are both still cops, Lowery is still a daredevil playboy, Burnett is still a more twitchy family man, and so on. But needless to say they are both still ‘bad boys’.

However, the punchline to this opening sequence is that they are racing to the hospital, where Burnett’s first grandchild is about to be born. Yes, this is a movie called Bad Boys where one of the ‘boys’ has just become a grandfather. You might expect this to indicate a film with a certain self-awareness deficit, and you would be absolutely correct about that. Having established the character points it will repeatedly return to – Lowrey refuses to grow up and take responsibility, while Burnett is rather too keen to retire – the film then kicks off with the plot proper. Some bad hombres from Mexico show up in Miami, intent on exacting vengeance on various law-enforcement officials while taking over the city’s underworld. (I honestly thought this might be a call-back to the plots of one of the previous films – which I’ve seen, I just can’t remember very much about either of them – but apparently not. In the same way, a character played by Paola Nunez is introduced, who apparently has a long history with Smith, but she is also new.)

It turns out that Lowrey is on the bad guys’ hit list, which makes him as cross as two sticks. However, Burnett has already retired and refuses to help him on the case, which inevitably drives a wedge between the two friends. It also means that Martin Lawrence is considerably less prominent than Will Smith throughout the first part of the movie, and one wonders to what extent this is a calculated decision. One also can’t help wondering how the paychecks of the two leads compare, given Smith still has reasonable star clout and Lawrence’s last major role was in Big Momma’s House 3, nearly ten years ago.  Sadly data is not available.

Well, anyway, what happens is that… you know, it’s literally a day and a half since I saw this movie and already the actual details of the plot are fading from my memory. I do recall that even at the time I was thinking that this was not the most cohesive of stories, being heavily dependent on contrived plot devices to keep the narrative going. What it basically is, is a succession of action sequences, laboured comedy bits between Smith and Lawrence, and queasily sentimental ‘dramatic’ scenes, cobbled together in fairly strict succession. To make it all slightly more palatable, given this is a glossy and superficial movie fronted by two guys with a combined age of 105, various hot young actors and actresses have been drafted in to stand near them and occasionally provide feed lines: Vanessa Hudgens gets third billing, despite having a very minor role in proceedings.

I was all set to say that no matter what the shortcomings of Bad Boys for Life are (and they are numerous), at least it isn’t a Michael Bay film. Then Michael Bay actually turned up in it, apparently feeling what it really needed was a cameo appearance from him. Gee, thanks again. The directors do seem to have studied at the feet of the Prince of Darkness and the new movie is every bit as blandly superficial and vacuous as an actual Michael Bay movie tends to be. To be fair, the script does manage to contrive one plot development which is startling without seeming contrived or risible, and – I am typing this with gritted fingers – there is the odd reasonably funny line. But on the whole this is a depressingly crass and predictable film,  seemingly unaware of how uncomfortably its violence and its sentimentality sit together.

Everyone involved can surely do better. Audiences deserve better. So why not at least try to do better? I suppose that’s why they call it commercial cinema, and Bad Boys for Life has already recouped its budget in its first week of release: apparently we are threatened with a fourth installment. What may be even more depressing is that this film has been relatively well-reviewed by many legitimate critics. I can only put it down to nostalgia for the mid 1990s. Dearie me, we may be in even more trouble than I thought.

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