3.5 out of 5 stars

In a world of uncertainty, terror, and war, sometimes you need Will Smith to shoot some villains with guns while Martin Lawrence cracks jokes about sweets and reincarnation. That’s exactly what Bad Boys: Ride or Die offers. Is it a great film? No. Does it offer anything different from the first three films in the series? Not at all. Unless you count a few new characters who act mostly as flimsy cut-outs for Smith and Lawrence to either shoot at or save. So what does this film offer? Something sorely lacking in much of today’s cinema: genuine fun and a thorough escape from everyday life.

The premise of the film, as mentioned above, is very similar to previous instalments in the franchise, with a few minor changes. Detective partners Mike Lowry (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) discover their former captain, Conrad Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who died in the previous film, Bad Boys for Life (2020), has been posthumously accused of corruption. The two must embark on a wild, thrill-ridden adventure to clear the Captain’s good name.

Characters returning from the previous films are mostly treated favourably in that they are given ample screen time and tasks that are more than mere busywork. Particularly delightful in this regard is Burnett’s marine son-in-law Reggie (Dennis McDonald), who gets a chance to shine in one of the film’s best and most action-packed scenes. No spoilers, but I will say this scene left me hoping for a spin-off film or two featuring Reggie teaming up with Mike Lowry’s estranged son Armando Aretas (Jacob Scipio) à la Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019).

Like Reggie and Aretas, the characters introduced in Bad Boys For Life—Rita (Paola Nuñez), Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), and Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens)—are all on top form as they team up with Lowry and Mike to expose corruption and take down the bad guys.

The film descends into tired action movie cliché territory when it comes to new characters. The main villain, McGrath, has very little motivation for his actions. The only explanation offered by the greasy politician in McGrath’s corner, Lockwood (Ioan Gruffudd), is laughably simplistic, even for the most forgiving audience. Similarly, the link between McGrath and Aretas’ mother retcons her entire motivation in Bad Boys For Life and feels shoehorned in to justify Aretas’ reappearance. (Though, as a heterosexual woman, I can’t say I’m complaining. Once you see Scipio with his shirt off, you’ll understand why.)

Speaking of being shoehorned in, Smith’s eternal playboy, Lowry, gets married in this film. This not only clashes dramatically with his character established over the past three films, but the bride is also a stranger to the audience. We’re given two throwaway lines about him meeting and marrying his physiotherapist after he was shot at the end of Bad Boys for Life. Aside from the fact that said physiotherapist, Christine (Melanie Liburd), is beautiful and British, we learn nothing further about her. Both she and Captain Howard’s equally undeservedly sidelined granddaughter, Callie (Quin Hemphill), seem to exist solely to raise the stakes for Lowry and Burnett at crucial moments in the plot.

The only significant new character given any kind of arc is Captain Howard’s U.S. Marshal daughter, Judy (Rhea Seehorn). Her desire to punish Aretas, who killed her father in the last film, clashes with Lowry’s determination to protect his son. This, and a few moments between Lowry and Aretas, provide the only serious emotional underpinnings in the film. Don’t worry, both arcs are completed and the storylines are wrapped up with a hasty simplicity to make room for more quips and action.

Now, in most other action films, the flaws listed above would be enough for me to give this film a two out of five at best. So, why the higher rating? Smith and Lawrence. Their chemistry and joy in playing these characters is palpable and infectious. Since the Bad Boys films, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the humour, warmth, and genuine fraternal compassion these two characters have for each other.

Now, I relish any opportunity to see them interact again. It’s almost like you’d relish the chance to see your favourite cousins or best friends who live in the middle of nowhere. Sure, there’s nothing to do, there’s little to see, and it takes ages to get anywhere. But the fact you’re getting to hang out with some of your favourite people in the world makes the trip worthwhile. And while films that rely too heavily on nostalgia can overstay their welcome, that’s not the case with Bad Boys.

Bad Boys is one of those franchises that knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else. Unlike other recently revived action franchises from the 1980s and 1990s (Ghostbusters, for one), it’s not inundating us with nostalgia, practically begging us to approve of the franchise’s new direction. This franchise has no new direction, and it never will. It promises to always be silly, good fun action starring two of Hollywood’s most likeable leading men (Will Smith’s notorious Oscar slap notwithstanding).

After a difficult day, it’s nice to sit down with two of your best fictional friends as they embark on a familiar, enjoyable adventure. Ultimately, that’s what the Bad Boys films are: a chance to get away. To escape to a world where even the stickiest situations are solved with a quip and a few lines of silly dialogue. So, I cordially invite you to see this film. Switch your brain off for a couple of hours, forget the clichés and underdeveloped characters, and just revel in the simple, action-filled world of Lowry and Burnett. You won’t regret it.

USA | 2024 | 115 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

directors: Adil & Bilal.
writers: Chris Bremner & Will Beall (based on characters created by George Gallo).
starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Paola Núñez, Eric Dane, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhea Seehorn, Jacob Scipio, Melanie Liburd, Tasha Smith, Tiffany Hadish & Joe Pantoliano.