Movie review: Bad Boys: Ride or Die is, like everything, about family

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are like brothers. The police captain was like a father to them. One of them getting married. Oh, and there are also shootouts

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It doesn’t matter if it’s The Fast and the Furious, the MCU, Kung Fu Panda or Indiana Jones – if the franchise lasts long enough, eventually it’s all about family. Even if it didn’t start out that way.

So it is with the latest chapter in the ancient, attenuated Bad Boys series, now just four films old but also almost 30 years, the first one having come out in the early years of the Clinton administration.

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The previous instalment, 2020’s Bad Boys For Life (with the confusing tagline “Ride Together. Die Together”) introduced Jacob Scipio as Armando, child of Will Smith’s character, Mike Lowrey. This one gives us Melanie Liburd Mike’s fiancée, whom he marries in an early scene and then mostly ignores.

It’s not that he’s a bad husband. It’s just that he and his police partner Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) have to clear the name of the late Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who was like a father to them, and whose actual daughter (Rhea Seehorn), a U.S. Marshal, and granddaughter (Quinn Hemphill) are also very upset at what looks to be a posthumous frameup. Family. Watcha gonna do?

The shoehorning of Captain Howard’s very after-the-fact setup is just one of several logical leaps and inconsistencies that probably won’t bother fans too much. They also likely won’t mind that his from-beyond-the-grave video opens with the cliché “If you’re watching this I’m dead” and wraps on the almost-as-hoary “trust no one.”

No, fans will be too busy watching for cameos (there are several) and enjoying the easygoing chemistry of the two leads, who fall into their old patter like they were brothers. Which, in movie terms, they practically are. Marcus even suggests they’ve been hetero life mates over more than one lifetime.

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Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah return for a second outing after taking over in the previous film from original helmer Michael Bay. And a shout-out to returning cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert, who leaves no camera trick unused, no lens unpacked. Ride or Die features dolly shots, Steadicam, Unsteadicam, handheld, footheld, unheld, first-person, first-person-talking-to-tall-person, inside-the-fridge, bullet POV, gun POV, you name it.

There’s a drone shot of a drone being shot. There’s a closeup that I swear was taken by a very long lens, from space. And when Lawrence’s character accidentally chews on a black jellybean and then spits it out in disgust – well, the asteroid in Deep Impact didn’t get that kind of love from the camera.

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To create some psychological stakes – the film alternates between moments of levity and heavity but, at almost two hours, not much brevity – Mike is suffering from panic attacks brought on by (wouldn’t you know?) love of family. And Marcus has just been through a near-death experience, which leaves him with the blissful belief that, since it’s not his time, he can’t die.

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(Just once I’d like a movie character to realize that, even if you can’t die, grievous injury is still within the realm of the possible. And while we’re at it, what’s with his life-flashing-before-your-eyes montage? Did he spend his life watching nature documentaries?)

But you don’t go to Bad Boys for rationality. You go for the explosions (there are many) and the gunplay (also lots) and the helicopter (one but it’s a doozy) and, increasingly, the nostalgia. And you go with the intention of going again, in a year or a few. Cast and crew have already teased the possibility of Bad Boys 5, possibly set in an international location. Call it Bad Boys: Family Holiday.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die opens June 7 in cinemas.

3 stars out of 5

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