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Bad Boys: Ride Or Die ★★★★



Released: 5 June 2024

Director: Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah

Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Paola Núñez, Eric Dane, Rhea Seehorn, Ioan Gruffudd, Jacob Scipio, Melanie Liburd, Tasha Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Dennis Greene & Joe Pantoliano

If there was ever a film to proudly announce that the Summer Blockbuster season is here, then Bad Boys: Ride or Die is that movie. The fourth entry into the franchise is a wild and outrageous action-packed comedic adventure with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in top form. And based on this evidence, Bad Boys hasn’t lost any of its magic. 

None of this is surprising when Bad Boys’ cultural legacy in action cinema re-energised the buddy cop formula. It made Michael Bay into a household name, translating his hyper-stylised visuals from the music video scene onto a cinematic canvas. It launched Will Smith into the cinematic stratosphere as a leading (and bankable) action movie star – and he wasn’t called ‘Mr Fourth of July’ for nothing when his follow up films Men in Black and Independence Day broke box office records. Lawrence – another integral part of its success – operates at the peak of his powers with his comedic comebacks, a routine and timing perfected as a stand-up comedian, the House Party films and his self-titled comedy show, Martin. Together, their amped up bravado has been entertaining us since 1995. 

Fast-forward to 2024, the clever stewardship of directors Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah have fuel-injected it with that same ‘90s powder keg energy. The characters of Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) may still be up to no good with their back-and-forth buddy cop antics, but their dynamic remains the heart and soul of the franchise. The stories feel richer and personal. The jokes have weight and impact, traversing into belly laughter territory. As for the hi-octane action, it still finds exhilarating, crowd- pleasing moments to entertain an audience. Ride or Die’s success is its unapologetic tribute to what it has done before. It plays like a greatest hits record but doesn’t rely solely on nostalgia to bridge the time gap, bringing something new to the table. And if you’ve come this far, no matter how absurd it gets, in classic Bad Boys fashion, it earns its sincerity and ‘dumb fun’ credentials and fully commits to the assignment. In other words: The Expendables 4 could never!

It’s not the only thing Ride or Die pays tribute to. Chris Bremner, Will Beall and George Gallo’s script weaves together The Fast and Furious, John Wick, Spectre and even The Fugitive into its cinematic homages. Its storyline – which sees the return of Joe Pantoliano’s Captain Howard (albeit in ghost mode) – leaving cryptic video messages from beyond the grave for detectives Lowrey and Burnett to solve a corruption case within their department. To make matters worse, their former captain is framed, and it’s up to the detectives to clear his name. While the plot relies on its easy-to-follow simpleness, the high level of enjoyment comes from the surprises it encompasses along the way. 

Following on from their work in Bad Boys For Life, Adil & Bilall’s distinct direction this time around will be an acquired taste for some, pushing the limits with its mix of drone shots, timelapses, tilt transitions, slow-mos and first-person shooter camera rigs into a crescendo of ‘Bayhem’-esque chaos we’ve come to expect from the franchise. Their willingness to be bold, inventive and ambitious should be applauded, even if some of its risky experimentation doesn’t always gel seamlessly. However, does it have fun doing it? Does it yell “are you not entertained?” as you watch Marcus get the ultimate sugar rush as he consumes jelly beans and Kool Aid (when he’s supposed to be on a diet) and springs into a gunfight like a supercharged Popeye? The answer to all of that is an overwhelming yes, making the Warner Bros. decision to cancel and then delete their Batgirl film for a tax write-off even more baffling. Their loss is ultimately Bad Boys gain – and they’re having a blast.

But the film’s greatest appeal comes through its leading stars. For Smith and Lawrence, this near-30-year on-screen relationship goes from strength to strength as if no time had passed at all. Key to their longevity has been acknowledging their age and their growth, presenting each entry with a new change in their relationship. In Ride or Die, Mike settles down, marrying his therapist Megan (This is Us’s Melanie Liburb) with Marcus as his best man.

Because we’ve grown up with Mike and Marcus throughout the years, Bad Boys can throw in the most bombastic ideas, and if you’re happy to suspend all disbelief, then it works. For instance, Marcus’ near-death experience at the result of a heart attack takes him on an otherworldly, spiritual trip (yes, this happens in the movie) renewing him with the belief that he is immortal and cannot die. Mike suffers from PTSD, replacing his iron-clad assurance to his personality with vulnerability. Adil & Bilall’s direction doesn’t dwell on these aspects for too long (therefore, if you’re seeking depth, it’s not to be found here). But it does just enough to keep the emotional stakes high when the duo turn into Miami’s most wanted, thanks to Eric Dane’s villainous performance as McGrath.

Lawrence’s exuberance is what steals the show. If fans were disappointed in not seeing enough of him in Bad Boys For Life, then Ride or Die doesn’t make that same mistake. His one-liners are as sharp as ever (peaking at “chitty chitty bang bang motherfuck*r”), forever complimenting Smith’s cool persona. Smith does take a slight back seat, but his contribution showcases why he never lost his charm and magic when it comes to filmmaking.

The film is not without its flaws. The plot can feel overstuffed, especially with its unapologetic visceral action in play. Its female characters don’t always get enough screen time to be fleshed out with Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seahorn as Judy, the daughter of Captain Howard, a notable casualty. But for what it lacks, it gains in abundance in other areas, and in perhaps in an MVP, scene-stealing moment involving Reggie (Dennis Greene), not only brings the laughter but immense joy for how his character comes full circle.

It’s the little rewards that keep Bad Boys: Ride or Die entertaining and exhilarating, knowing exactly what it wants and delivering with a crowd-pleasing authority. Hopefully, the duo have one more adventure in their locker, but if that is not to be, then at least it leaves it on a high.

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