'Bad Boys: Ride Or Die' review: Goofy sequel that's not bad, but not great either


By AGENCY

You told me this was going to be a ‘stress-free’ paintball session, not a trip to a criminal’s kill zone! – Photos: Handout

Bad Boys: Ride Or Die
Director: Adil and Bilal
Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Paola Nunez, Jacob Scipio, DJ Khaled, Tasha Smith, Eric Dane, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhea Seehorn, Melanie Liburd, Tiffany Haddish

The first Bad Boys came out in 1995, which means we’re officially entering the “aging action star” territory with this franchise. The fourth installment, Bad Boys: Ride Or Die is directed by the up-and-coming action filmmaking team Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, known as Adil and Bilall, who took over directing duties from Michael Bay with 2020’s Bad Boys For Life.

There seem to be two options for the action star – and franchise – that’s getting up in years. One can either take the Tom Cruise route, returning to a text that was originally all flash and sensation, and infusing it with a sense of soulful poignancy as the character (and actor) reckons with what he’s sacrificed in his pursuit of pure adrenaline (Top Gun: Maverick). The other option is to join the crude, cynical supergroup known as “The Expendables”, where beloved action stars josh and jostle for a cash grab.

But the Bad Boys franchise has taken another tack.

Adil and Bilall take the basic scaffolding and structure of the previous films – the Miami setting, the character archetypes that stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have established, and Bay’s distinctive visual language – and then freestyle on top of it.

Adil and Bilall dutifully pay homage to Bay’s signature visual style, aping his constantly moving camera, low Dutch angles, and the signature “Bad Boys shot”, in which the camera circles around Smith and Lawrence as they stand up into frame, staring into the distance. But they treat the Bad Boys template like a colouring book, scribbling with their own wild artistic experimentation on top of these lines.

Will Smith’s attempt to join the next Fast And Furious sequel was quickly slapped down.Will Smith’s attempt to join the next Fast And Furious sequel was quickly slapped down.

Bad Boys: Ride Or Die is a declaration of action independence, using new technology like drones, and infusing the film with the visual language of video games.

Bay himself utilised drones with a certain gonzo artfulness in his 2022 film, Ambulance, but Adil and Bilall use their drones to follow people and movement in space, explore the geography of interiors and transcend screens within screens.

They also use wild, rapidly swapping first-person-shooter-style POV shots in the shootouts, which are legible to the average gamer even if they don’t always make cinematic sense.

They can easily get away with layering in this kind of stylistic experimentation because the beats of Bad Boys are so familiar, and in Ride or Die, are essentially perfunctory.

Writers Chris Bremner and Will Beall offer a story that is wide but shallow. There’s certainly a lot of plot, and even more characters, even if we don’t get to know them all that well.

I call this my no-look shot!I call this my no-look shot!

This convoluted yarn concerns the bad boys’ deceased Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who has been posthumously framed for corruption, accused of sharing intel with drug cartels.

Marcus (Lawrence) and Mike (Smith) seek to clear his name, but find themselves at odds with Howard’s US Marshal daughter, Judy (Rhea Seehorn), bent on vengeance, and their colleague Rita (Paola Nunez), who has brought the charges with her attorney/mayoral candidate fiance Lockwood (Ioan Gruffudd).

Their only chance at fingering the real bad guy is Mike’s drug dealer son Armando (Jacob Scipio), who has been imprisoned for the bloody chaos he wrought in Bad Boys For Life.

Where's Vin Diesel when you need him, eh?Where's Vin Diesel when you need him, eh?

Meanwhile, our guys are grappling with their own mortality and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After a near death experience at Mike’s wedding, Marcus finds himself spiritually renewed, feeling invincible, euphoric, babbling about his past lives. Mike, on the other hand, is gripped with anxiety as a newlywed and as a “new” father.

But this simply provides the playground upon which the filmmakers can experiment and Lawrence can clown to his heart’s content.

His performance is garish, but there’s something about him that just wears you down over the course of two hours – one must simply submit to his comedic ministrations.

The first half of the film is overly concerned with Marcus’ sugar addiction, and during one shootout in an interactive art gallery/creative space, he has a single sip of fruit punch and reacts as if he’s freebased crystal meth.

I knew I shouldn't have taken the bus today!I knew I shouldn't have taken the bus today!

That theme is quickly dropped for other equally cartoonish bits, such as a run-in with a redneck militia, a callback to their infiltration of the Klan in the second movie, and a side quest to a strip club, where they tangle with Tiffany Haddish.

Bad Boys: Ride Or Die never quite finds its tone, but then again, the franchise has always walked the strange line of goofy and hard, teeter-tottering between Lawrence and Smith, and despite the cinematic experimentation and a couple of impressively nasty fight scenes (courtesy of the younger actors), this instalment favours the goofy.

It’s a thin tapestry of lore with some interesting creative embellishments, but without any real interest in character, it feels flimsy and disposable. You could do worse, but you could certainly do better. – Tribune News Service

7 10

Summary:

Still bad to the bone

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Bad Boys , Will Smith , Martin Lawrence

   

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