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Will Smith and Martin Lawrence age gracefully in the big, loud Bad Boys 4 – review

Bad Boys: Ride or Die, as a “more of the same” companion to 2020’s Bad Boys for Life, has proven that this is a franchise determined to age gracefully. As much as a series in which Will Smith and Martin Lawrence play Miami detectives huffing the red, white, and blue fumes of bullet-ridden, nihilistic maximalism actually can, I suppose.

Truthfully, Ride or Die has less to say about the state of masculinity, action cinema, and Smith’s onscreen legacy, than it does about Warner Bros’s embarrassing decision to shelve its directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s take on DC’s Batgirl for an easy tax write-down. A little self-awareness goes a long way, and, under the duo’s guidance, the Bad Boys movies have comfortably reached an equilibrium between parody and nostalgic sentiment. A punch-up in an art gallery, a helicopter pan of the city, and a shot of Lawrence drooling over a day-old convenience store hot dog all yearn to achieve the same hedonistic chaos as Michael Bay’s original instalments, released in 1995 and 2003, respectively.

It feels a little presumptive to set them up here as Bay’s direct successors, but Adil & Bilall (as they’re usually credited) have developed their own, borderline whimsical take on all-hands-on-deck action cinema that puts them at a healthy cut above Hollywood’s usual stock. Every group shot – from a wedding toast, to the reintroduction of the previous film’s squad of young hotties (minus Charles Melton, who is off busy getting robbed of an Oscar nomination for May December) – is deemed worthy of the franchise’s trademark 360 camera spin. At different points, we get to watch the action from the perspective of both a gun and a military drone.

The duo, who also headed up the previous film, have been handed a largely sterile script – one that’s part-sitcom, as Mike Lowrey (Smith) keeps his buddy Marcus Burnett’s (Lawrence) hand out of the snack drawer after he suffers a widowmaker heart attack, and part conspiracy, as they work to clear the name of their deceased mentor (Joe Pantoliano’s Captain Conrad Howard), after he’s framed by Eric Dane’s mysterious villain.

Marcus’s heart attack is depicted as a lyrical submergence into the depths of the ocean, in which his mind revisits the entire Bad Boys series, before bleeding into a hyperactive montage of stock nature footage and dilating irises. It’s weird. But it provides a much-needed justification for why Chris Bremner and Will Beall’s script suddenly gives Marcus religious delusions that cause him to deliberately walk into traffic.

You can guess what happens next when Mike and Marcus are forced to team up with the last film’s villain, Mike’s long-lost son Armando (Jacob Scipio). Once the bad guy headquarters are revealed to be an abandoned amusement park, home to a gigantic albino alligator named Duke, you can guess who his next meal will be.

Will Smith in ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’
Will Smith in ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ (Frank Masi)

But Smith and Lawrence are happy to chip a corner off their tough guy credentials so they can play the goofball husbands to their successful, extremely tolerant wives (Tasha Smith and Melanie Liburd) and help water down the fact they’re still cops with an unshakeable infatuation with extrajudicial force. Bad Boys: Ride or Die has learned a few valuable lessons from the Fast & Furious franchise – dumb and loud, executed with right enthusiasm, can feel like a warm hug.

Dir: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah. Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Paola Núñez, Eric Dane, Ioan Gruffudd. 15, 115 mins.

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ is in cinemas from 5 June

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