Bad Boys: Ride or Die review – Will Smith bromance goes big on Pointless Action Explosions

Martin Lawrence, America’s lost hero of broad comedy, has had his movie profile kept on a kind of life-support by the near 30-year-old Bad Boys franchise; but some of us furtive Lawrence fans still sheepishly bond over re-watchings of the great man’s masterpiece, his 2001 merrie England adventure Black Knight alongside Tom Wilkinson. Now Lawrence appears in the fourth Bad Boys film in the remarkable situation of being in better career shape than his Oscar-winning co-star Will Smith, who is still in disgrace for the Slap Heard Around the World and then, just as importantly, the F-Bombs Heard Around the World So Everyone Knew the Slap Was Real.

This film’s production having been delayed by The Controversy, Lawrence and Smith are back as rule-breaking cops Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey; first seen in 1995, they are now the Bad Late-Middle Aged Men. Our two heroes end this film by nostalgically invoking the lyrics of Run DMC’s Peter Piper: they’re not “bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good”.

With over 30 years’ service and going by the actors’ respective ages of 59 and 55, these officers have somehow avoided the Miami PD’s normal retirement rules of 50 and out. But these days, the guys have had nonetheless to acknowledge the march of time. Junk-food enthusiast Marcus suffers a near-fatal heart attack at the wedding of Mike to his new girlfriend Christine (Melanie Liburd) and awakens in hospital with a goofy new spirituality. Mike’s old girlfriend Rita (Paola Núñez) is incidentally now stepping out with ambitious smoothie politician Lockwood (Ioan Gruffudd). As for Mike himself, he is now subject to panic attacks (which he doesn’t yet have the emotional maturity to acknowledge) caused by residual guilt over his son Armando (Jacob Scipio), whose grim and weirdly serious story was told four years ago in the previous film Bad Boys for Life.

Now their late boss, Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) is being posthumously framed for bribes by sinister cartel bosses to divert attention from the corruption within the establishment – when Marcus and Mike find out, they have to work outside the law to nail the bad-meaning-bad guys. And of course they do this with the traditional PAEs or Pointless Action Explosions – though I was sorry not to see any SWFSTTA or Shooting While Flying Sideways Through the Air. This is all in the gung-ho action spirit of producers Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson and the franchise’s original director Michael Bay, who gets a cameo, as in the last film. The current film’s directors are Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Farrah, who were unlucky to be on the end of Warner Bros cost-cutting over their never-released superhero film Batgirl.

Like many, I was hoping for a small role for Chris Rock, perhaps as a rival cop, so that he and Smith could work through their differences where it counts: on screen. But it is not to be, because apart from everything else, it would upend the all-important bromance chemistry with Martin Lawrence. Will Bad Boys 4 restore Will Smith’s sweetheart status? Perhaps only a full and candid apology or just coherent statement will do that, or a reckoning with his complex private emotional life. It is still, frankly, a bit weird to see his nice-guy face in the light of that bizarre Oscar night fiasco – although his recent movie Emancipation shows that he is still a very formidable actor and it could be that PR redemption lies in serious work. Pending that though, the Bad Boys are still providing innocent amusement.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die is out in the UK on 5 June, in the US on 7 June, and in Australia on 14 June.

The Guardian