‘Bad Boys for Life’ Finds the Heart That Was Always Lurking Beneath the Carnage

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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

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Second Act’ Pairs an Inconsistent Message with Sweet and Amusing Friendships

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CREDIT: Barry Wetcher/STX

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini, Dan Bucatinsky, Freddie Stroma, Milo Ventimiglia, Treat Williams, Larry Miller, Charlyne Yi, Dave Foley, Alan Aisenberg

Director: Peter Segal

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Parents Who Swear in Front of Their Children But Are Trying Not To So That Their Kids Don’t Swear Back at Them

Release Date: December 21, 2018

At the end of Second Act, Jennifer Lopez assures us that we can always take a chance on ourselves and do that thing that we’ve always been holding ourselves back from doing. Alas, that is a huge oversimplification that ignores key details involving randomness and fairness (or lack thereof). You can work hard and be outspoken about your desire for a dream job, but ultimately landing that position requires some amount of luck and other forces beyond your control going your way. But like Dana Scully and her position on supernatural phenomena, I want to believe what J. Lo is telling us. But here’s the thing: despite its title, that’s not really the message of Second Act.

This frothy workplace/rom-com is more about the virtue of adaptability, as well as putting pompous educated folks in their place. A successful second act may very well require adaptability, but it is important to note that Maya Vargas (Lopez) is not the architect of her own second act. She may have ambitions to be more than an assistant manager at a supermarket, but it is her godson who beefs up her résumé with phony credentials, which gets her in the door for a consultancy job at a big-deal cosmetics company. She kills at the interview, because it turns out that, at least in Maya’s case, a GED and years of retail experience are worth just as much as a bunch of business degrees. While she does have to fight off a fair amount of self-doubt, she actually displays a minimal amount of impostor syndrome, considering the circumstances.

You would think that the major conflict from this point on would be Maya fighting to prevent her co-workers from discovering the truth of her background. That certainly plays a part, but it takes a backseat to a huge second act twist (pun not intended by me, but maybe the dramatic irony was intended by the script?) involving Maya and her new colleague Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens). The fallout is played rather sweetly, but it is pretty much impossible to get over how bizarrely unexpected it is. And that is representative of Second Act as a whole: it is a frothy good time despite being inconsistent with its message and purpose. It certainly helps that Maya’s best friend is played by Leah Remini, a real-life chum of Lopez’s who is always served well by a role that allows her to say whatever the hell is on her mind. As for the romance plot, Milo Ventimiglia is not given much to do as Maya’s boyfriend other than take his shirt off occasionally, which is nice to look at but is not typically a versatile tool for a screenwriter.

Second Act is Recommended If You Like: Jennifer Lopez and Leah Remini’s friendship, A bygone era of J. Lo-starring romcoms

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Fake Facebook Profiles