‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’: Will Smith Oscar Slap Joke Epitomizes Groan-Worthy Sequel

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Sony Pictures
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Sony Pictures

Given the critical and commercial success of 2020’s Bad Boys for Life—a long-delayed third buddy comedy that became the last pre-pandemic blockbuster—as well as Will Smith’s continuing need for image rehabilitation following The Slap Heard ’Round the World, it was inevitable that the A-lister and his favorite co-star Martin Lawrence would reunite for more riding and dying as Miami’s guns-a-blazin’ cops.

In fact, Bad Boys: Ride or Die, in theaters June 7, is also unsurprising in every other way, from its profane bickering and chaotic action to directors Adil & Bilall’s enduring mimicry of original series director Michael Bay, whose over-the-top macho stylization remains sorely missed. Even a late meta joke about Smith’s Oscar scandal proves a predictable bit of self-consciousness and does less to enliven the proceedings than merely fulfill expectations.

That wink-wink gag proves to be a self-aggrandizing inversion of Smith’s Academy Award meltdown, with his detective Mike Lowrey overcoming his unmanly panic attacks via some open-handed smacks to the face courtesy of partner Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). The slaps, you see, restore Mike’s inherent virility and confidence, and while recasting the incident in this way is pure, unadulterated ridiculousness on the star’s part, it’s no less absurd than an early wedding scene during which Mike’s bride Christine (Melanie Liburd) recites vows that praise her new spouse for his wealth, cool, and banging nude body.

To say that Bad Boys: Ride or Die is an act of reputation rejuvenation by the headliner would be an understatement, and that modus operandi isn’t offset by the numerous one-liners that, as in the prior film, poke fun at Mike and Marcus for their advancing age.

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys: Ride or Die.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence

Frank Masi

As Mike and Marcus frequently remind each other, they’re bad boys for life, which at this stage in the game feels far too long. The two are comfortably, invulnerably cartoonish in their latest adventure, this despite an early cataclysm when, at Mike’s wedding, Marcus has a heart attack, visits the great beyond to have a beachside chat with the ghost of deceased Commander Howard (Joe Pantoliano), and returns to the living with a fresh, cocky perspective. Convinced it’s not his time and, therefore, that he can’t die, Marcus proceeds to stand on a hospital rooftop’s ledge and flash Miami, moonwalk through traffic without a care in the world, and squares off against a 900 lb albino alligator. It’s to Lawrence’s credit that regardless of this subplot’s corniness, his riffing is so manic that it eventually wears one down and elicits a few chuckles.

That’s less true of the aggro badass routine delivered by Smith, who appears to be straining very hard to project scary, blustery manliness. Nonetheless, his Mike is an adequate foil for Marcus, whose hyperactivity is all the more amusing in light of the character’s hunger for sugary sweets that everyone else (on doctor’s orders) demands he avoid. Before long, the detectives’ health concerns take a back seat to shocking accusations leveled at the late Howard, who’s posthumously pinned for being a corrupt cop in bed with the Mexican drug cartels.

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Mike and Marcus don’t believe this for a second, and though Mike’s ex Rita (Paola Núñez) and her mayoral candidate boyfriend Lockwood (Ioan Gruffudd) are pretty sure about his guilt, they set out to clear his name. Their ensuing mission entails enlisting the services of Mike’s estranged son Armando (Jacob Scipio), a former cartel hitman who murdered Howard in Bad Boys for Life, and who’s sought by Howard’s U.S. Marshal daughter (Rhea Seehorn, asked to do nothing of value).

With both this familial storyline and the participation of Mike and Marcus’ squadmates Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), Bad Boys: Ride or Die continues the franchise’s deliberate descent into soap opera-y Fast and Furious terrain. Formally speaking, however, Adil and Bilall take most of their cues from Bay (who again cameos), indulging in a cornucopia of visual flourishes that include frantically spinning camerawork, drone cinematography, handheld POV shots, and incessant slow motion, all of it set to Latin hip-hop and drumming. In the end, the directors can’t wholly emulate their series’ godfather. Still, they infuse the material with enough energy-drink mania to keep it lively, no matter that just about every scene, set piece, and twist is creatively flat.

Through plot developments that would seem even more lazily convenient if Adil and Bilall weren’t adept at orchestrating distracting razzle dazzle, Mike and Marcus discover that Howard is being framed by a mysterious baddie with deep connections inside the U.S. government. That scoundrel is an ex-commando (Eric Dane) who’s flipped allegiances for no discernible reason, and who practically embodies the term “generic.”

Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys: Ride or Die.

Martin Lawrence

Frank Masi

Only the sleepiest of viewers will be stunned by the revelation about his inside-man accomplice, and a Tiffany Haddish cameo is nothing short of DOA. Moreover, it’s not clear when Mike and Marcus became known to everyone in Miami—cop and crook alike—as “bad boys” whose theme song is Inner Circle’s ubiquitous Cops track, but the film never lets anyone forget it. At least Chris Bremner and Will Beall’s script boasts a couple of moderately interesting details, such as the fact that windshield wiper fluid is, apparently, highly flammable.

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Perhaps the funniest moment in Bad Boys: Ride or Die features Mike and Marcus reacting with shock and awe to Marcus’s straightlaced Marine son Reggie (Dennis Greene) laying waste to assassins with John Wick flair, simply because it plays against both Smith and Lawrence’s tough-guy schtick. When it undercuts its heroes’ status as the biggest and baddest wolves on the block, Adil and Bilall’s film becomes lighter on its feet and more in on the fundamental joke of its existence as a creaky sequel to a middle-aged series.

That’s not nearly often enough, alas, as their tale falls back on clichés with such regularity that there’s no possibility for surprise, and even less chance to become invested in anything happening or anyone involved. The result is a rehash that—in the interest of staving off franchise death for a little while longer—could stand to learn a few new tricks.

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