‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ Review: Older, but Never Wiser

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ Review: Older, but Never Wiser

Two years after Will Smith slapped the comedian Chris Rock on the Academy Awards stage, it feels bizarre that he needs a franchise called “Bad Boys” to rekindle his star power. Smith and his co-star, Martin Lawrence, are two producers of “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” the stylishly chaotic lark by the directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, suggesting outsize roles as star-auteurs and the importance for this installment to be a hit. In their hands, “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” throws everything at the wall, and much of it sticks.

Though the third “Bad Boys” installment was released in early 2020, a few months before the George Floyd murder spurred Black Lives Matter protests, that film could be seen in some ways as apologizing for its Michael Bay past and its “copaganda” roots.

But this is something else — a silly buddy comedy that opens poignantly with the wedding of Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Christine (Melanie Liburd). There, Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) has a heart attack, a near-death experience that soon makes him feel invincible; Lowrey, however, is rendered vulnerable by debilitating panic attacks. It’s clear that these two hypermasculine men, still speeding through Miami in fast, slick cars, are aging.

Their friend Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) has been framed — after his death — in a cartel’s money laundering scheme, by corrupt government officials and the brooding mercenary James McGrath (Eric Dane). Lowrey and Burnett work to clear Captain Howard’s name, and in the process this film somehow becomes a prison-break movie, involving Lowrey’s incarcerated son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), and a revenge subplot involving Howard’s daughter Judy (Rhea Seehorn). Along the way there are nods to fan favorites, a cameo by Tiffany Haddish, and Miami gangsters hunting a wanted Lowrey and Burnett.

The lurid lighting and grandiose filmmaking mirror the extravagant plotting. A frantic shootout in a club is viciously edited. In other major set pieces, the camera, sometimes taking a first-person-shooter perspective, zips, darts and spins past falling bodies toward Smith and Lawrence, who banter playfully.

Their endearing camaraderie lands better than the shallow moments meant to ground Lowrey, whose panic attacks barely figure into his character growth or his relationship to his son. The role of Christine, his kidnapped wife, is severely underwritten. This film’s spectacle is absurd — a climactic raid on an abandoned amusement park features an albino alligator — but its shortcomings are barely noticeable.

Smith and Lawrence also make this adventure a riotous triumph. These stars embody the care and anxieties their characters feel for each other, wielding their chemistry to smooth over abrupt tonal shifts. For example, an all-out firefight looping in a Barry White needle drop is a major highlight. And a run-in with racist good old boys, inspiring a Reba McEntire cover of the film’s theme song, makes for another memorable scene.

This violent franchise has rarely felt so assured, so relaxed and knowingly funny. If “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” means that Smith, post-slap, will remain a bad boy for life, there are worse punishments to endure.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die
Rated R for strong violence and sensual, lovemaking music. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. In theaters.

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