Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Hit the Streets With More Slapstick Energy in ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’

The last “Bad Boys” movie was a hit, so we are getting another one. “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” arrives four years after “Bad Boys for Life” became the top grossing film of 2020, in no small part due to the impact of the pandemic. With little pretension, this follow up is exactly what it promises to be, more dumb fun. Two key elements keep some gas in the tank. There’s the stylish directing by Adill El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who seem to be using this franchise to pay the bills and experiment with their camera. Then, there’s the duo of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The two pop culture veterans keep it afloat because in a sense they are tapping into the popularity of middle-aged action heroes. Overall, the two are simply funny, together, naturally evolving as older versions of the young hotheads from 29 years ago.

Their presence is the real oxygen considering the plot is standard action fare. Picking up from the last movie, Miami cops Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are still fighting crime while making life changes. Mike is getting married to his therapist, Christine (Melanie Liburd). During the reception, Marcus suffers a heart attack and is instructed to lay off his sugar addiction. But a near-death experience convinces him he’s also invincible. That might come in handy when their beloved late Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who was killed in the last movie, is accused of having links to drug cartels. To clear Howard’s name, Mike and Marcus seek answers from Armando (Jacob Scipio), Mike’s estranged sicario son, also from “Bad Boys for Life.” Prowling around killing people to deepen the frame is McGrath (Eric Dane of HBO’s “Euphoria”), an enforcer working for a mysterious boss who puts a $5 million bounty on Mike and Marcus. So, basically your typical ‘90s plotting.

“Ride or Die” has all the hallmarks of a hastily slapped together sequel after “Bad Boys for Life,” which was billed as the final adventure for these characters, made piles of cash. This is one of those franchises with telling gaps. The first “Bad Boys” premiered in 1995, established director Michael Bay’s career, and helped Will Smith start shaking off his “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” persona. Eight years later, Bay directed the off the rails sequel, “Bad Boys II.” Someone in the executive offices figures this is a go-to franchise every few years or so. What is a smart approach is that these updates don’t try to fully recreate the ‘90s. The writers are aware times have changed, so you still get a few raunchy jokes but nothing too sexist. The n word has virtually disappeared from the dialogue. 

“Ride or Die” is slightly “better” than “Bad Boys for Life” in that the plot is less reliant on stereotypes like Kate Del Castillo as a Mexican drug lord praying to Santa Muerte. Approaching it soberly, it is not as if we were expecting anything other than slapstick. That is where this one works best, when Mike and Marcus handle a gas station thief while running late to an event or all the jokes about Marcus’ Skittles addiction. A nightclub shootout uses punch and jelly beans the way other movies use fireworks. There are a few nods to the original movies sure to please fans, with a surprise cameo or two. Some characters get lost in the shuffle. Paola Núñez is back as Rita, Mike’s old flame who is now captain. She’s a great presence but is underused, despite later having a major connection to the plot. It’s not as bad as poor Christine, who literally disappears for large swathes of the movie. Mike always had the running joke of being a bachelor, so now he’s finally tied the knot and it really adds nothing to the story. When he, Marcus and Armando go on the run, it is baffling how Mrs. Lowrey doesn’t seem to care that her husband has gone missing. A surprise scene stealer is Dennis Greene as Marcus’ son-in-law Reggie, who we met hilariously in “Bad Boys II” and is now a grown Marine. He is given one of the best action scenes in this movie worthy of applause.

These are somewhat typical story holes in this kind of action movie. It’s more about the popcorn experience. El Arbi and Fallah know how to craft energetic imagery, making good use of neon Miami hangouts or stormy evenings. These two are natural filmmakers and audiences should seek out their criminally underrated 2023 film, “Rebel,” about ISIS and the Syrian civil war. That was a profound, eloquent work with a very personal touch. Hopefully continuing success will allow these filmmakers to make more films of that caliber. But cinema is also a business and they certainly entertain here. Drone and tracking shots turn action sequences into cheerfully creative wildness. POV shots from an aimed weapon, guns suspended in the air and a killer alligator continue and even enhance the “Bad Boys” tradition of zany violence. DJ Khaled returns for a memorable encounter with a speeding vehicle.

“Bad Boys for Life” was commended by critics for trying out some deeper plot layers involving Mike almost getting killed and discovering he had fathered Armando with Kate Del Castillo’s cartel boss. The storyline continues here with less drama and more testosterone, but Jacob Scipio makes it work because he fits right into this environment. You want to fist bump a friend during the final moments where father and son truly unite as screen badasses. We even get a very unsubtle slapping scene that is no doubt winking at Will Smith’s recent Oscars controversy. The rest rushes by as expected. Lorne Balfe, a great modern film composer, is also back, but once again whatever music he contributes gets drowned under all the reggaeton, hip-hop, Latin rap, house and everything else they dance to in Miami on this soundtrack. We don’t need another “Bad Boys” movie after this one, but it is an early summer guilty pleasure.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die” releases June 7 in theaters nationwide.