With Bad Boys: Ride or Die, We Choose “Ride” Until These Boys Die

Movies Reviews Will Smith
With Bad Boys: Ride or Die, We Choose “Ride” Until These Boys Die

Last time on Bad Boys: Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) attempted to retire from the Miami PD, stepping away from the life of violence he’d shared with his partner Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) for nearly 25 years, only to realize that retirement will never be possible. He is bound to Mike until the day they die. And the day they die will be the day they can no longer legally murder people side by side. Bad Boys for Life, the first of the now-four-deep franchise not steered by Michael Bay—who appeared Stan-Lee-like in all Bad Boys entries from that point forward—continued in the time-honored tradition of its predecessors by bearing witness to Mike Lowrey’s bloodthirstiness. No matter what, Mike’s lust for annihilation persevered against all odds.

This is the buddy-cop dynamic this franchise has codified thus far: Marcus spends much of his character arc convincing Mike to tone down the bodycount, while Mike slowly comes to realize the consequences of a life beset on all sides by the endless death he’s wrought. If the Bad Boys movies are mostly about the war raging in the soul of America’s ideal psychopath supercop, then Bad Boys: Ride or Die paints that war with big and shameless Fast & Furious ambition, no longer questioning if Mike should kill, but why he does. Is he a Bad Boy, or a Good Boy who is so Good at doing Bad things that he’s cosmically aligned with the nature of the Bad Boy? Is he the monolithic Good-Bad Boy, a true representation of punitive justice in its purest form?

Anyway, in this one, Mike finally gets married. This new degree of family responsibility, combined with still-lingering PTSD from watching Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) get killed right in front of him, plus the added complexity of Mike’s until-recently-estranged son Armando (Jacob Scipio) being the killer—this all happened in Bad Boys for Life—trigger frequent panic attacks. Marcus has his own attack at Mike’s wedding, that of the heart, during which he experiences near-death visions of all the lives he’s led with all the previous versions of Mike, as well as a prophetic meeting with dead Captain Howard telling him it’s not yet his time to go. Marcus wakes with two epiphanies: Mike is his soul mate, and Marcus cannot die.

Unlike past Bad Boys movies, in which a big event (like Mike almost dying in the previous film) unearths notions in Marcus that maybe he should stop bringing so much violence into the world, or that maybe all this daily trauma could use some therapy, or that maybe a family life can’t coexist with such ceaseless death and pain, in Bad Boys: Ride or Die, Marcus represents the new paradigm these movies are exploring: How can these guys survive all of this? In this one, they make it through a pretty gnarly plane crash. 

But let’s go back further. In retrospect, almost 30 years following the first movie’s premiere, Michael Bay’s Bad Boys duology seems simultaneously genre-defying and -defining. The final statement on these guys. The first movie, from 1995, a relic of the Clinton administration, establishes “Miami’s finest” as two hyper-violent psychopaths in a world that, with “superpredators” on the rise, requires such unmitigated force. A huge success, Bad Boys pretty much codified Bay’s whole thing in one go, giving him the kinds of budgets that would engender a teat-suckling adherence to excess in even the humblest of filmmakers, so that by the sequel eight years later, excess was much of the point. Bad Boys II is the Platonic ideal of Sequel: a movie that has nothing new to offer beyond the relentless and gleeful exploitation of its continued existence. When Marcus and Mike steal Dan Marino’s luxury car to chase down a vanful of naked corpses, which subsequently spill onto the road in front of them during the high-speed action setpiece, the endless possibilities of the cinematic form, archetypes and all, feel fulfilled at once. 

Which may be why Bad Boys for Life, with Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi taking over for Bay, sinks more bandwidth into catching up than successfully translating the brand past Bay’s tenure. The directors bring in a young cast and kill off Captain Howard and give Mike a secret son; villains become heroes, Charles Melton was there, the whole affair is Vin-Diesel-coded, etc., attempting a little bit of everything to figure out where to go after Bad Boys II drove a Hummer through a small village in Cuba. Which was an homage to Police Story maybe, but also a screaming culmination of Bay’s mayhem existing for its own indulgent sake.

With Bad Boys: Ride or Die, Adil & Bilall have divined the right direction for the franchise. Doubling down on the sudsy melodrama while curbing much of their visual language from late-period Bay, especially his recent opus, AmbuLAnce, they’ve found a way to branch off from the first two films without anchoring it with expansive lore. Swooping, long-take drone shots and an endlessly spinning omniscience accompany more than five obligatory POV shots from the barrel of a gun or some other inanimate object, cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert’s world a constantly moving tumbler of squelching slo-mo violence, obligation its glorious driving force. But rather than let the chaos warp the film’s sense of space, Adil & Bilall’s action scenes—with which Ride or Die is lovingly bloated—are as legible as they are earnest attempts to court a big audience, whereas Bay would blaze through that sense of space with a blowtorch. 

The two directors have also wisely caught on to the benefit of their actors’ ages, Smith now mid-50s and Lawrence pushing 60. Not only has Smith spent the past 20 years doing increasingly difficult stunt work alongside his dramatic roles, Lawrence has become the warm, welcome emotional center of the franchise. In fact, the true magic of this fourth installment is that somehow it has transformed Marcus Burnett, one of the most insufferable characters in late-‘90s action filmmaking, into a hilarious delight. Watching Martin Lawrence, eyes the size of meatballs, hallucinate and holler through a murderous, jelly-bean-fueled sugar bender is a moment during which the full audience at my preview screening nearly stood and clapped.  

Maybe that’s a lazy assessment, but whatever it takes to get people to go see a movie this weekend: There was electricity in the room. Bad Boys: Ride or Die is a genuine crowd-pleaser, just undeniably captivating, funny and raging, neon-pink copaganda. It serves as both a fitting end to the franchise, while leaving room to make one more. And if that happens, I will be seated. I will hope that Rhea Seehorn is actually given something to do next time. I will watch these men shoot drug dealers in the face forever.

Directors: Bilall Fallah, Adil El Arbi
Writers: Chris Bremner, Will Beall
Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vaness Hudgens, Paola Nuñez, Alexander Ludwig, Ioan Gruffudd, Jacob Scipio, Melanie Laburd, Rhea Seehorn, Dennis Greene
Release Date: June 7, 2024

Dom Sinacola is a Portland-based writer and editor. He has a blog on Werner Herzog movies, The Werner Herzblog, and he’s also on Letterboxd.

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