CREDIT: Kyle Kaplan/Sony Pictures

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Núñez, Kate del Castillo, Jacob Scipio, Joe Pantoliano, Nicky Jam, Theresa Randle

Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: R for Execution-Style Gunfire, A Fiery Climax, and Motormouth Profanity

Release Date: January 17, 2020

Bad Boys II came out in July 2003, a month after 2 Fast 2 Furious. The former is perhaps the apex at which Michael Bay fully embraced his destiny as a director of baroque extremes. Its signature chase scene, in which cars pop out of other cars and massive vehicular destruction is ultimately essentially shrugged off, is perhaps the most sublimely over-the-top sequence ever committed to celluloid. In the years since, the Fast and Furious flicks have trended more and more towards such defying of physics and logic, while Bad Boys has remained dormant … until now. As Detectives Marcus Bennett and Mike Lowrey return (and Bay retreats to just producing, with Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah taking over directing duties), Bad Boys for Life in turn finds inspiration from the other signature element of the F&F franchise, embracing the heart and brotherhood at its core that was always waiting to be explored.

The pairing of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in the first two Bad Boys leaned hard (dangerously hard) into their odd couple nature. Marcus (Lawrence) and Mike (Smith) are not only partners, but also lifelong friends, which is evident but also a little disheartening in terms of how much they constantly get on each others’ nerves. But Bad Boys for Life surprisingly, but wisely, embraces the genuine love between the two men. One running thread in the series that continues here is Marcus’ desperation to just retire and spend time with his family. That was previously played mostly for laughs, but now it is much more serious, as Mike survives a brush with death and Marcus becomes fully convinced that they have served long and well enough. But Mike has revenge on his mind, and he wants his partner to be right alongside him as always. Marcus initially refuses, and even though we know he is eventually going to come around, the moment when he stands his ground is killer, with both actors asked to reach new levels of investment and emotional gut-wrenching.

The other gratifying innovation on display is a new set of teammates to render Marcus and Mike much less of the uncontrollable cowboys they’ve always been. It may be fun to see them constantly give Captain Joe Pantoliano conniptions, but at a certain point, it’s a little too hard to accept that someone wouldn’t step in and put a firm stop to their antics. That check comes in the form of AMMO, a new division of Miami PD focused on surveillance and drones more so than going in guns blazing. It’s headed up by a former flame of Mike’s (Paola Núñez) and a trio of youngsters (Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton) who all admire Mike while simultaneously laughing at him and saving his ass when he gets into trouble. These bad boys indeed are still riding together to the end, but there’s plenty of space to hop in alongside them.

Bad Boys for Life is Recommended If You Like: The previous Bad Boys but wish they had more heart, the Fast & Furious series

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Rides Together