July 13, 2024

Will Smith & Martin Lawrence’s latest for ‘Ride or Die’ fans only

4 min read

by Dwight Brown, NNPA News Wire Film Critic

They’re older. Wiser? Well, older. Boyz II middle-aged men. They still got it? And if they do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you? 

“Bad Boys” (1995) and “Bad Boys II” (2003), starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith as rambunctious Miami cops Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowery, respectively, were directed by the flashy director Michael Bay. “Bad Boys for Life” (2020) had new life breathed into it when the young, edgy Belgian and Arab team of directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (“Black,” “Rebel,” and “Gangsta”) took command. These filmmakers, Lawrence, and Smith have gone back to the same well one more time for this latest venture. Anything left? 

The character of Captain Conrad Howard (Joe Pantoliano), the guys’ much-loved commanding officer, was a constant in the three previous movies. In the last chapter, he was assassinated by the sniper hitman Armando Aretas (Jacob Scipio), who happened to be Mike’s son. This new, formulaic script by Chris Bremner and Will Beall starts where the last film finished. Howard’s legacy as an honorable, trustworthy cop is being besmirched by crooks who try to tie him to a deadly cartel. Howard speaks from beyond the grave: “Boys, we have rats in our walls!” 

Outraged, Marcus and Mike try to clear his name. It’s a premise that provides lots of forward momentum.

The guys’ investigation is aided by former rookie cops Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens) and Dorn (Alexander Ludwig). As their new boss, Captain Rita Secada (Paola Núñez), seems skeptical, a stealth hitman named Banker (Eric Dane) connives to kill all the good guys who get in his way. 

It’s on.

You’d think that this tight ensemble would be just enough. But the franchise has so much baggage, more and more characters show up: Marcus’s wife Theresa (Tasha Smith), his war-veteran son Reggie (Dennis Green), and grandchildren. Mike’s new wife Christine (Melanie Liburd), Conrad’s enraged Federal Marshall officer daughter (Rhea Seehorn), and innocent granddaughter Callie (Quinn Hemphill). Add in a smarmy politician (Ioan Gruffudd) and a bodacious strip club owner (Tiffany Haddish), and it’s a full house. 

If there’s a star in this movie, it’s the action scenes. Adil and Bilal excel at bringing the car chases, gun fights, brawls, and violence. The footage, shot by cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert, starts with a bang in a convenience store; kinetic energy is well measured throughout (editors Asaf Eisenberg and Dan Lebental) and doesn’t let up until the last deadly shot hits its mark. 

During the mayhem, Marcus is on the hood of a car pumping bullets at the bad guys, an art gallery becomes a battlefield, a helicopter loses control, loved ones are in jeopardy, and an old amusement becomes a burial ground. The one action sequence misstep involves the boys driving a van totally engulfed in flames. It’s silly, stupid, and improbable. But for the most part, the steady supply of adrenaline-pumping scenes gives action and comedy fans what they want, and the Lawrence-Smith team exemplifies the wacky buddy cop pairings moviegoers like.

With Jerry Bruckheimer as the prime producer (“Top Gun: Maverick” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”), everything is bigger, excessive, and more outlandish than it needs to be, especially the final scenes. What if this chapter had been a reboot that took the guys back to their roots? What if, instead of a grandiose style, the filmmaking was stripped down to its roots? This would have given the two leads a bigger chance to spotlight their comic chops. Imagine if this episode was as close to the ground and gutter as the Safdie Brothers’ “Uncut Gems,” but funny? What if audiences got to see the seamy side of Miami and not the Hollywood-ized version? Well, not even Hollywood-ized, because the supreme irony is that the film was largely shot in Atlanta. Authenticity be damned.  

In case audiences had forgotten, Martin Lawrence always stole these movies from Will Smith. He got the most hilarious lines and knew how to handle his comic business. Weird facial expressions, great timing, whining, bugging out… Now, this script gives him an incident that makes him become overly spiritual—to the point of feeling he’s untouchable and becoming reckless. It’s a nice gimmick that gives him room to shine. Marcus, “I spent my whole life being scared!” Better than the secondary characteristic laid on Smith, which has him freezing up at inopportune times. All other cast members are good, too. But Haddish, in a small club scene, leaves her bawdy scent all over everything. She’s hysterical.

They’re older. Worn and frayed like a pair of old shoes with holes in the bottom. But they’ve got their loyal followers who’ll ride or die with Marcus and Mike forever in any imperfect buddy cop movie. Why? Because Lawrence and Smith know how to charm and disarm. 

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