It’s nothing new for a Bad Boys movie to have an overly convoluted plot and too many side characters, but what has remained consistent is how each movie somehow manages to not let those things detract from the centerpiece chemistry between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Four years is the shortest amount of time between sequels in this franchise thus making the latter two films feel as equal in weight as the impressive debut and chaotic classic that is Bad Boys II. Why Bad Boys III didn’t come out in 2009-2010 and why we converted to confounding subtitles rather than sticking with the already established roman numerals I will never understand, but here we are with two very distinct halves of the Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett saga. 

In truth, it would be hard to mess one of these movies up and fortunately all the key ingredients are present with Bad Boys For Life directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah returning in full "Bayhem" mode employing (and deploying) as many drones to shoot the film as Alexander Ludwig's character does to shoot the bad guys. Screenwriter Chris Bremner returns while Aquaman and Justice League scribe Will Beall joining him to fashion a story around the next phase in Mike and Marcus' already illustrious careers after seemingly working through all the late-stage personal and professional conflicts these two would have encountered as aging lieutenants. 

This is where the real challenge of the film lies though, as up to this point each Bad Boys film was capturing these characters at very different stages of their lives and careers, but as a direct sequel to "For Life" this not only deals in many of the same themes, but picks up certain plot lines directly and carries them through. There isn't anything wrong with this approach from a high-level perspective (though I hope they don't wear out their welcome because this is the only viable franchise both are currently clinging to) but as you get into the weeds of what matters on a story-level one can feel the straining to both find new layers for Smith and Lawrence to explore with these characters while also seemingly trying to set-up the future of this franchise in two successors who have ever met one another and whose chemistry - the necessary chemistry that allows these movies to elevate themselves above other, traditional police procedurals - is untested. 

Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowery (Will Smith) are in a race against time to wipe clean Captain Howard's legacy.
Photo by Frank Masi/Frank Masi - © 2023 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved

To freshen up the dynamic, Bad Boys: Ride or Die first does something of a role reversal in the partnership giving Marcus a new lease on life thus abandoning all the anxiety and worry he has previously brought to the relationship while for the first time in his life, Mike has something of value he has to worry about protecting and/or losing. To do this, Bremner and Beall have Mike's wedding open the film which was a nice thought and a smart touch until we realize he isn't marrying Paola Núñez's Rita from the previous film (nor did they bring back Gabrielle Union's character from part two for a nice surprise) but instead a(nother) new character in Melanie Liburd's Christine is introduced, who was Mike's (physical) therapist - solid joke. Rita and Mike's past does not go unacknowledged, but this new relationship was solely a decision based on plot as Rita is now dating incoming Miami Mayor Lockwood (Ioan Gruffudd) in what is possibly the most telegraphed yet still held as a twist reveal in any movie ever. 

Further complicating the otherwise solid base of a premise (the bad boys must clear Joe Pantoliano's Captain Howard's good name) is the presence not only of Howard's daughter (Rhea Seehorn) but also his granddaughter (Quinn Hemphill). It would have been really easy to rearrange characters and their objectives/purposes in order to get the same results without introducing so many new players into this now nearly thirty year-old game, but I have to assume Sony wants plans in place to keep this train on its current trajectory thus the reason the interrelationships play out the way they do in the film's climactic action sequence. All of that said, it does say something that we've come this far in a review of this fourth film - where Marcus has apparently unretired and where Mike's mortality continues to slap him in the face - and have not mentioned either Reggie (Dennis McDonald) or Armando (Jacob Scipio) much less Eric Dane who plays the big bad in this installment. 

Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens) return as proper support, technical and otherwise, for our heroes.
Photo by Frank Masi/Frank Masi - © 2023 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Dane is a serviceable villain yet doesn't get the arc his complex character clearly deserves due largely to the astounding number of other characters this film introduces and then must establish (have I mentioned Vanessa Hudgens is in this movie? No? That's kind of crazy, right?). Fortunately, El Arbi and Fallah understand that no matter who else is in a scene, Smith and Lawrence are the stars and are in control of the narrative and that remains true throughout Ride or Die. The directing duo also understand the action is the emphasis in these movies and are able to pull off several sequences that manage to measure up to what we might imagine a sixty-year-old Michael Bay would be doing had he continued to helm these films (Bay also makes another great cameo appearance here). Highway shootouts and alligator parks aside, two of the more exciting and intense sequences the film offers are a brutal jail yard brawl in which Armando is apprehended but not before doing some serious damage along with Reggie holding down the fort at Marcus' house as he puts his Marine Corps training to the test and dispatches an entire team of Dane's McGrath's most elite soldiers. These highlighted moments combined with the film's final scene give us a strong hint at where the Bad Boys franchise might be going even as there's hesitation in Smith and Lawrence both giving up and going on with this series.

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