Tuesday, June 18, 2024

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ Makes Me Want to See Batgirl Even More

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I have seen every single one of the Bad Boys movies. Yet, my memory of each is hazy. But despite the latest movie being largely fanservice, it didn’t matter much as I had a good time despite the tepid script.

Ride or Die is the second Bad Boys movie from the directing team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, known professionally as Adil & Bilall. Ride or Die is uneven, but Adil & Bilall infuse enough visual kineticism, thanks to Robrecht Heyvaert’s acrobatic framing and a fleet of drone cameras. The result is a fun time at the movies with patches of inert melodrama that nearly, but not quite, stop the film in its tracks.

bad boys
Detective’s Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) are at it again.

Chris Bremmer and Will Beall’s script is an inchoate mish-mash of old and new plot threads that the duo never successfully ties together. Bremmer pitched in on the last Bad Boys film, Bad Boys for Life, a movie that felt like a steroid-infused telenovela, a tone that worked like gangbusters. However, Ride or Die has all the plot of a telenovela but none of the story, lip-biting twists, and zero of the trashy, sexy fun.

It’s a shame because there is a semi-truck’s worth of nonsense in Ride or Die. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are back as Miami detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, and they do their best to carry the movie along. The best part about Ride or Die, aside from its visuals cribbed from comic books and video games, is the two leads. Smith and Lawrence relish returning to their roles while acknowledging that they are not as young as they used to be.

Don’t worry, Ride or Die isn’t interested in being introspective, despite Marcus having a near-death experience and spending much of the movie extolling about how he and Mike are soul mates and the details of their past lives. But it does see the whole gang coming back together one last time. It’s overflowing with cliches. Some of them work; some don’t.

Smith’s career has been in a freefall ever since the infamous incident at the Oscars. Weirdly, Hollywood has yet to forgive him. By comparison to some other actual crimes committed by white celebrities, Smith’s faux pas, feels so trivial, considering the town has forgiven everything from bigotry to sexual assault.

Regardless, Smith once again reminds us he is a movie star. Smith and Lawrence are a large part of why anyone should see Ride or Die. Because a movie star works even when the movie doesn’t. They can’t save the movie but they can grease the gears even when the plot has stalled. The scenes between the two as Lawrence’s Marcus goes off the existential deep-end and Smith’s Mike does his level best to keep up work even if the surrounding plot points do not.

One of the main problems of Ride or Die is that it suffers from the same issue as Bad Boys 2, it has a weak villain. This time it’s Erc Dane as James McGrath who concocts an unwieldy plan to implicate the late Captain Howard (Joey Pantoliano) as corrupt and working with the cartel. This sends Mike and Marcus on a quest to clear their Captain’s name.

I was hardly expecting a Bad Boys movie to have commentary about corrupt police officials. But I had to chuckle at how nonplussed Mike and Marcus were when their fellow officers seem to take obviously false evidence at face value. To say nothing of why the cartel would have him murdered, if I recall, is how they introduced Armando (Jacob Scipio), Mike’s long-lost son he never knew he had.

This gives Adil & Bilall the excuse they need to bring Scipio back into the story. So now, atop everything else, we have Mike trying to reconnect with his son, the man who killed his beloved captain, and mentor slash father figure. I realize that laying out there potentially makes it sound interesting and deliciously loopy. I’m sorry, it’s not.

But back to the weak sauce villain of the minute, DEA agent McGrath. Is it so hard to come up with a good bad guy for these movies? Dane cuts a nice figure and has the face of a great villain but Bremmer and Beall’s script give him little to do. Even the scenes where he’s trying to be menacing come off flat. The first time we met him I assumed he was merely the lead henchmen and we’d meet the real heavy later on. It was about halfway through the movie before I realized he was it.

Ride or Die is a movie that hits all the requisite beats. It’s never boring for too long of a stretch. But it at times as if it’s playing too safe. A helluva thing to say about a movie with a giant albino alligator, villains who use an abandoned amusement park as their hideout, and a Con Air-inspired scene that turns into a pretty rad prison break scene, but it’s true. Despite all the wackiness, there is a sense that it is all low-hanging genre fruit.

bad boys
Back left to right: Smith and Lawrence; Front left to right Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens).

One scene has Mike and Marcus on the run as fugitives. Mike and Marcus get caught stealing clothes from a couple of gun-toting rednecks. The scene is played safe, with the joke being Mike and Marcus struggling to come up with Reba McEntire lyrics.

I doubt this is Adil & Bilall’s fault. Likely it’s the gutless decision of some studio exec laboring under the impression that if the movie had an opinion it would lose precious box office dollars. Capitalist cowards, the whole lot of them. They don’t even have the guts to have a Reba McEntire song in the movie!

Despite the fun of seeing Smith and Lawrence riff off each other, there is a pervasive timidity, a kind of sanitization, of the so-called Bad Boys. Ride or Die is still rated ‘R’ but it’s a soft ‘R’ and feels neutered in a way. I kept expecting the movie to get nastier or even sleazier and instead was somewhat disappointed at how sanitized the whole thing felt.

Of all the movies to fall victim to the current puritanical anti-sex movement rampaging through Hollywood, I never expected Bad Boys to be one of them. I’m not moaning about the lack of flesh on the screen, though I wouldn’t mind, I’m moaning about the lack of vibes. For a movie set in Miami, there’s almost no heat between the leads and their partners. Especially between Mike and his new bride Christine (Melanie Libuld) who spends much of the movie largely forgotten until called upon to be the inspiration for Mike to have on-again-off-again panic attacks or be the damsel in distress.

Even the scene where we discover franchise regulars Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Kelly (Vaness Hudgens) are hooking up feels truncated. We get brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpses of Hudgens in her underwear. Scipio’s Armando even comments on how lucky Dorn is and seems to eye her from across the room. But the scene feels chopped up, more than being modest, the vibe seems at odds between what we see versus the context of the scene.

bad boys
Lawrence and Smith keep the movie going even as the script runs out of gas.

Poor Paloa Nunez who plays Rita, and who in the last Bad Boys had a red-hot chemistry with Smith’s Mike as his ex is now the steely-eyed Captain. She’s gone from being the sexy foil to being the put-upon authority figure reluctantly approving of their shenanigans. She has a boyfriend now, the DA, played by Ioan Gruffudd. Gruffudd has a face that screams “Heel turn coming”. It’s one of several baffling decisions made by the movie in which characters feel forced into situations and relationships purely for the sake of Ride or Die.

All of this would be fine if Bremmer and Beall’s script wasn’t so defanged and listless. Luckily Adil & Bilall take the spirit of Michael Bay action and run with it. Granted a few times when things exploded I felt myself thinking, “No one else blew stuff up like Bay did.” Bay even has a cameo early on, a sort of passing of the torch. 

Still, Adil & Bilall have a great flair for action scenes. Together with Heyvaert, they manage to rescue Ride or Die from itself. Ride or Die finds a way to be a crowd-pleaser without being merely fanservice. There are moments where I’m sure it was a reference to something that happened in earlier movies, but whether you’ve seen them or not, it doesn’t matter. I know DJ Khaleed when I see him and I feel like that’s all you need for the scene to work. 

Ride or Die at times feels like it pales in comparison while at others feels like a return to form. Either way, it’s not a bad excuse for getting out of the heat and sitting in a dark air-conditioned room. That may sound like damning with faint praise but believe me when I tell you some movies aren’t even worth that.

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

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