Miami detectives Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett (Will Smith and Martin Lawrence) are nearing retirement, but when someone from Mike's past comes back to haunt him, the two will have to team up with an ambitious group of young cops, led by a tough lieutenant (Paola Nunez).
In the space of as many years, there are now two movie franchises that were previously in the care of Michael Bay that have seen their fortunes rise - with critics, anyway - the moment's he stepped away from the camera. In both instances, the strength comes from acknowledging the context in which they were created, saving what was working and simply dumping the rest. Travis Knight's excellent 'Bumblebee' took the human-Transformer dynamic, the '80s nostalgia, and funneled it into an 'Iron Giant' story. Here, 'Bad Boys For Life' proudly wears its '90s action pedigree with excessive pride, and it mostly works.
Going in, it's important to remember that even if the trailers for this looked dire, the reality is you're getting a truly enjoyable splash of action comedy from two leads who know their business and know how to work a scene. There are so many effortlessly contained moments of comedy, just like in the first one way back when, that bubble up to the surface at just the right moment. Smith and Lawrence could easily bounce and riff off one another for hours on end, but it's the sharpness of the editing that cleaves to the choice parts.
The story, for what it's worth, is plucked straight from soap opera-telenovela madness, but it does come with a certain amount of self-awareness. It's not that smug, "we're going to make the joke before you can", type of self-awareness - but rather an ownership of just how dumb it is. After all, the sight of Martin Lawrence manning a gatling gun on a motorcycle is just too ridiculous for it not to be fun. Likewise, the final 30 minutes or so sets up the young whippersnapper team that Smith and Lawrence will be paired up with in the future, if there are to be sequels.
At just a little bit of two hours, 'Bad Boys For Life' keeps the pace moving, the action splashy, the comedy humming, and the chaos just at the edge of watchable. It never fully devolves into full-blown Bayhem because there really is no need for it. You watch these movies for the one-liners, the banter between the stars, the well-choreographed action - all done in tandem, not smashed together at breakneck speed until it's an incomprehensible mess like '6 Underground'.
Joe Carnahan's script isn't long on character development, and some of the twists are plucked right from the aforementioned soap opera playbook - but it strangely works. Likewise, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are able to blend together a lot of the visual cues and texture of Michael Bay with a more coherent outlook and without any of the messiness. Sure, it's borrowing from 'Fast and Furious' and it's so blatantly attempting to set itself up for another trilogy, but when were action movies of this ilk ever subtle? As strange as it is to say, 'Bad Boys For Life' is a solidly made action movie that delivers on the promise. Whatcha gonna do?