‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ misses the mark as it seeks to be a tale of redemption

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die”. Picture: Washington Post.

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die”. Picture: Washington Post.

Published Jun 12, 2024


Every long-running action franchise hits a point where the lead character groans that they’re too old for this.

In “Bad Boys: Ride or Die”, Martin Lawrence goes one step further, and you should stop reading here if you want the details to come as a surprise.

Minutes into this fourth instalment, Lawrence’s Miami detective Marcus Burnett clutches his heart at partner Mike Lowrey’s (Will Smith) wedding and drops dead.

The series that never says no to a bikini montage suddenly gets metaphysical.

Returning directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who worked on 2020’s “Bad Boys for Life”, pull off a surprisingly evocative sequence in the underworld, imagining the Great Beyond as a spectral Margaritavilla.

The ghost of Marcus and Mike’s former captain (Joe Pantoliano), murdered in a previous film, is spotted kicking it on the beach with a (presumably dead) parrot.

Never fear. Given the two choices in the title, Marcus chooses to ride on. He’s jolted back to life, well, enlivened, snapping awake with the zest of a Ziegfeld girl and dancing through traffic as he boasts of his immortality.

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in “Bad Boys: Ride or Die”. Picture: Washington Post.

Lawrence’s high spirits also defibrillate the franchise. Turns out the “Bad Boys” films needed less swagger and more dorky, goofy joy.

But really, this is Smith’s resurrection. “Ride or Die” is his first popcorn flick since he won an Oscar and tarnished his reputation on the same night.

The Hollywood actor appears chastened in a film whose script (by Chris Bremner and franchise newcomer Will Beall) dwells an awful lot on forgiveness.

“I had a lot of growing up to do,” Mike admits to his ex-girlfriend and police colleague Rita (Paola Nuñez), about his marriage to a new beauty named Christine (Melanie Liburd). Rita’s reply is curt, but kind: “You were 50.”

The story, as ever, hinges on drug cartels and kidnapped women. (We enjoy the film most in the gags that barely affect the plot.)

A clique of crooks has posthumously disgraced Pantoliano’s Captain Howard, a boss so beloved that his framed portrait appears to be giving Mike away at the altar.

Repolishing Howard’s reputation (gee, what a coincidence!) gives Mike and Marcus an excuse to broker a truce with his killer, Armando (Jacob Scipio), who also happens to be Mike’s estranged son.

As Mike and Marcus blast their way through Florida alongside Alexander Ludwig and Vanessa Hudgens as their millennial sidekicks, Pantoliano pops up in awkward video diaries to urge his protégés onward.

“Please, boys, you’re my last hope,” he intones. He’s Princess Leia with a flat-top.

El Arbi and Fallah aren’t reinventing the wheel – they’re just mounting shinier rims.

The young directors were both under 10 when the first “Bad Boys” hit theatres in 1995 and play with the franchise like kids in a sandbox, giving showy scenes to fan favourite characters like Marcus’s browbeaten son-in-law Reggie (Dennis Greene) and a staggeringly tall hacker named Fletcher (former NBA star John Salley, one of the Detroit Pistons’ original Bad Boys).

Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert respects the series’s visual tics: night sequences with the lurid pinks and teals of a souvenir T-shirt, daytimes under that scorching orange tint that appears washed in nacho cheese, and comic angles that shoot people like skyscrapers or ants, anything but people-sized.

As our two leads aren’t up for intense choreography, most of the fights are just a lot of bang-bang gunplay.

The camera is more athletic than anyone on-screen, muscling between bullets and smashing through walls. Heyvaert shoots action so well that you forgive how little physical action there is.

Smith seems wary of having too much fun in his apology blockbuster. (His character now suffers from panic attacks, a point that’s made often and means nothing.)

Lawrence flings himself into the film’s wackiest gags, screaming at alligators, drooling over gas station hot dogs and waxing on about how he believes in honest-to-Hades soulmates.

“We haven’t always been Mike and Marcus, but we’ve always been us,” he beams.

Lawrence is enjoying himself twice as much as Smith and marginally more than the audience.

During one shoot-out, he waggles his tongue desperately as jelly beans fly through the air. It’s a sweet metaphor for how the summer multiplex hungers for this kind of pleasurable junk.

∎ “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” is showing at cinemas nationwide.