‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ Review: Sequel Proves Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Still Have Gas in the Tank

The nearly 30-year-old franchise is still a blast as the fourth film delights in soap opera hijinks

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Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in "Bad Boys for Life" (Columbia Pictures)

When Danny Glover’s Sergeant Roger Murtaugh famously intoned, “I’m getting too old for this shit,” in 1987’s “Lethal Weapon,” Glover was only 41 years old. Three films later in “Lethal Weapon 4,” Glover was still at it at the age of 52. We now have the fourth outing of the “Bad Boys” series, “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” and stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are 55 and 59, respectively. The “Bad Boys” franchise turns 30 next year.

By blockbuster standards, this franchise should be decrepit, and yet “Ride or Die” shows that Smith and Lawrence, with the aid of directors Adil & Bilall, have no intention of slowing down. In an age where viewers want to show how much smarter they are than the blockbusters they’re watching, “Bad Boys” still proudly flaunts its ’90s heritage by being unapologetically stupid in its plot details and disinterest in gritty reality. While it’s picked up a few tips from the “Fast & Furious” franchise when it comes to expanding the cast and leaning into soap opera, the camaraderie between Smith and Lawrence combined with loony set pieces makes the “Bad Boys” series a singular delight.

The Bad Boys are growing up. Detective Mike Lowrey (Smith) is getting married, and at the wedding, his lifelong friend and partner Detective Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) has a heart attack. These early events allow the guys to swap roles in a sense as the daring Lowrey, now married, starts having panic attacks and hesitating while the normally cautious Burnett feels he has a new lease on life and “can’t die.” Amidst this change, the guys learn that their former captain and friend, Conrad Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who died in the last movie, is now having his legacy tarnished with the accusation that he was working with the drug cartels. Lowrey and Burnett know the Captain would never be dirty, and they learn he’s being framed because he was onto real corruption in the department. Working with Lowrey’s estranged son/incarcerated assassin Armando (Jacob Scipio), Lowrey and Burnett also end up getting framed, and must go on the run to prove their innocence and expose the truth.

Admittedly, the movie gets off to a bit of a slow start. There’s some clunky plotting to get us to Lowrey and Burnett discovering what was really going on with Howard, and who might be trying to set him up. And with the ongoing “Fast & Furious”-ification of the series, you also need to spend time with more supporting characters like Armando, AMMO members Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), and new captain Rita Secada (Paola Núñez). However, while “Bad Boys” may sport a bigger cast, the heart remains Smith and Lawrence, who are a far cry from the stoic Dom Toretto. Smith and Lawrence have no issue making themselves look silly if it gets a laugh, whereas comic relief in the “Fast” movies gets loaded on to characters like Tej and Roman.

While today’s modern blockbusters haven’t been shy about letting older actors still try to carry a franchise (last summer’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” starred an 80-year-old Harrison Ford; Keanu Reeves made the “John Wick” series in his 50s; Tom Cruise is in his 60s and working on the eighth “Mission: Impossible” movie), the approach to the “Bad Boys” movies has always been extremely youthful. Part of the reason the first movie made such a splash in 1995 was that director Michael Bay took his fast-cutting, highly stylized approach from music videos and TV commercials and put it into a blockbuster film. Rather than reset the tone, Adil & Bilall have stayed true to that approach, maintaining the aggressive camera work and high contrasts as they zoom around Miami. Such energetic filmmaking shouldn’t mesh with aging characters who, unlike Reeves’ John Wick or Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, aren’t highly trained operatives, but just regular guys. Regular guys age, and the movie hasn’t given Lowrey and Burnett superpowers.

And yet the trick of the “Bad Boys” movies is that the dumber and more unrealistic they get, the more fun they are. The plot makes no sense (the villains’ motivation to pin crimes on a dead cop who can no longer keep hunting them is never explained), and there are giant leaps of logic like how the bad guys can, at one point, masquerade as U.S. Marshals without anyone getting wise. But the “Bad Boys” series has never been about tight plotting or ingenious twists. It’s about throwing Lowrey and Burnett into chaotic situations and forcing them to wisecrack and shoot their way out. That’s it. Those are the movies. They’re a bizarre blend of soap opera, broad comedy, and bombastic action, and they should not work, but they do.

Attribute that to the unique dynamic between Smith and Lawrence or how Adil & Bilall picked up the torch from Bay, but rather than pushing the envelope, there’s now an odd throwback charm to the bravado. They’ve picked up a few elements from other franchises, but it’s still doing its R-rated action movie thing in an age of PG-13 CGI-fests.

As “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” moved through its first act, I worried that the guys might not have the juice anymore. If your smooth-talking ladies’ man Mike Lowrey is settling down and the uptight and anxious Marcus Burnett is having a heart attack, isn’t that an acknowledgement that they might be too old for this shit? But by the time we get to the film’s big action climax (sadly not as big as invading Cuba from “Bad Boys II,” but still good), I was hooting and hollering at the madness up on screen. “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” shows that not only is there still life in this series, but as long as it stars Smith and Lawrence with skilled directors like Adil & Bilall, you could have Lowrey and Burnett wheeling themselves around the old folks’ home and have a blast.

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die” opens exclusively in theaters on June 7.

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