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Critic & Son – Bad Boys: Ride or Die

You can’t understand how massive Will Smith was, not unless you were there. These days, he’s still ubiquitous. My son, Liam, knows who he is, as do his friends. Will Smith is, to his generation, the same way that Frank Sinatra was to mine. He’s a celebrity, only one that isn’t a cultural driver the way he used to be.

By that I mean, in the early 90s, Will Smith was coming off a successful music career and television career. He set his sights on movie stardom, and holy God, did he achieve it. To my mind, Men in Black is a perfect blockbuster. Independence Day remains beloved to a lot of people. Hell, in the misbegotten 2016 Suicide Squad, his performance as Deadshot was one of the only good things about that film.

Will Smith was gigantic in the 90s, and it all really started with Bad Boys. If you came of age in the 80s and 90s like me, you know that film and you probably know that franchise. But what if you didn’t? That’s where I got curious. With the release of Bad Boys: Ride or Die, I first wondered what Liam thought of the franchise, having never seen any of the films and being only dimly aware of them. Here’s what he said initially:

I have never seen a Bad Boys movie. Now, this is not for a lack of interest. I wanted to see Bad Boys 2 very badly, I’ve heard it’s one of the great American action films, but I just never got around to it. Honestly, I don’t really even know what Bad Boys is about! I can only guess that it’s about two rough around the edges cops having to go against crime and show the gangs who’s boss. They don’t play by the rules, and they don’t listen to orders. But they get shit DONE. That’s what I guess, at least. I like buddy-cop films. So I’m hopeful!

Is Bad Boys: Ride or Die any good? It depends on whatyou want out of action movies and if you have a connection to the franchise as a whole. For me, I want action movies to be smart. Failing that, I want them to be awesome. As far as the franchise, I don’t have much of a connection. Bad Boys was okay, I thought Bad Boys 2 was kind of sociopathic, and I missed the third installment, Bad Boys for Life. 

Turns out that’s a problem for people like me, since Ride or Die picks up almost directly after For Life. For example, I was quite surprised to discover that Miami P.D. Detective Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) has a secret son who became involved with the Cartel. Which cartel? You know, the Cartel. His son is Armando (Jacob Scipio), and he was a cold-blooded killer who tried to bump off his Pops and is now in jail, seeking redemption, as so often happens.

I was also surprised to learn that (allegedly) beloved Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) was killed in the last film. By who? Why, Armando, of course! The Captain’s daughter Judy (Rhea Seehorn) has become a U.S. Marshall, and if she ever, ever, ever finds out who sent her Dad to the great beyond, things are going to get very tense.

Oh, and Mike is getting married to Christine (Melanie Liburd), who is…um…a pretty lady, I guess? Mike’s best man and partner is, of course, Detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence). At Mike’s wedding, Marcus has a near-fatal heart attack. He believes he encounters Captain Howard in the afterlife, and since it’s “not his time,” Marcus believes he’s functionally immortal. He’s also mad that he can’t eat crappy food at all times, and believe me, I feel this so hard.

Anyway, trouble arrives in the form of McGrath (Eric Dane). He’s a former Fed who was tortured by the Cartel, and he’s masterminding a plot to smear the legacy of Captain Howard through corruption accusations. Soon enough, Mike and Marcus are on the run. They’re determined to clear their names, avenge their captain, and shoot a lot of people. 

Liam and I had…um…very different reactions to Bad Boys: Ride or Die. He’s got thoughts, so I’ll make mine quick. On the upside, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah direct the bejeezus out of the film. While Michael Bay’s first two installments were fast-paced and sleazy, Adil and Bilall direct with hyperkinetic joy. Rather than being above the material, they fling themselves into it with abandon. Their action sequences alone are marvels, and perhaps the best one is a fight scene in a crashing helicopter. The camera careens around the cramped space, and it simultaneously feels like it’s falling yet always tracking what needs to be seen. If there’s a standout in this film, it’s Adil and Bilall.

Speaking of being above the material, the screenplay by Chris Bremner and Will Beall is one of the worst blockbuster scripts I’ve seen in years. It’s crammed full of jokes that mostly don’t land, setups with no payoffs, far too many characters, and characters who are used poorly. Who is McGrath and why is he evil? I have no idea. Who is Christine, and who is she beyond being a pretty lady? Couldn’t tell you. Why is the mighty Rhea Seehorn brought in to play a U.S. Marshal, then given virtually nothing to do? Confused look on my face! My gut tells me that a release date was set by the studio, and either the writers were flogged mercilessly to finish something, or that they never finished the script and much of it was improvised during shooting.* 

But enough jabbering from me! After having seen the film, Liam had the following thoughts…

I went in wanting a fun action-comedy. I got that. I think that if you want to turn off your brain, you’ll get that here. If you want an actual movie, see something else. This is a genuinely fun film that has little to say other than “murder is cool if it is the good guys and less cool if it’s the bad guys but it’s still pretty cool honestly”. 

Buried in this film are a few actually good performances! Will Smith is shockingly vulnerable and human for a character who seems to be just tough and rough around the edges. Rhea Seehorn gives a beautiful performance in the one scene where she’s allowed to act. Jason Scipio is great as Armando, being a force of nature learning to live again. He is just also not given much depth. My personal favorite was Dennis Greene as Reggie, Marcus’ son-in-law, who does nothing except sit around and play video games until a sequence when he’s the coolest and funniest person in the entire film. Then there is a gag involving him and a grill that’s among the only funny jokes in the movie! He’s one of many characters in this that serve basically as a revolving cast of a sitcom. There’s like dozens of those guys. It’s unbelievable. Honestly just every side character is fun and charming and sidelined. 

Then there’s Martin Lawrence. He is not particularly good. He doesn’t seem to be able to play much else other than stupid and loud. His jokes aren’t that great, and he has most of them, so it’s not as good as it could and should be. Most of the jokes that aren’t said by him though are pretty good. It makes me wonder if the script is the issue or if it’s his delivery, which is not the best when he has the most lines in this film by far. The action is raw as hell though. Watch this for the action and not the comedy.

As for the two lead performances, Will Smith goes for a little more dramatic approach, as Mike is dealing with panic attacks throughout the film. It’s not a bad idea, since Smith is a gifted actor who occasionally coasts on the strength of his charm. With Lawrence, what he lacks in acting chops, he makes up for with raw, goofy enthusiasm. He plays Marcus as a walking Dad joke, and Lawrence leans so hard into it that he’s more likable than annoying.

A mutual of mine on Twitter adores the Bad Boys franchise. She doesn’t show up primarily for the gunplay or stunts. It’s all about the characters, and for her each installment gives her time to simply hang out with people she loves. Good for her, and when I see her enthusiasm, I wish I could share it. Liam was into Bad Boys: Ride or Die, while I was a little less into it. That’ll happen sometimes, and I’d bet good money if you liked the prior films, you’ll like this one.

 

*Sometimes that actually works! The production of The Fugitive was legendarily awful, and it’s a miracle that the end result was a genuine classic. Most of the time, you’re left with movies like Iron Man 2, which if you squint, you can see the better film that could have existed.



Tim Brennan Movie Critic

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.

 

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