Bad Boys: Ride or Die is a film about retribution and redemption. Not just on screen, but in execution. After their last attempt at a blockbuster was shelved in the name of a tax loophole, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah seem intent on unleashing all their pent-up energy, whether they’re selling us Batgirls or Bad Boys. Even if it bears the baggage of a meta redemption arc for its star, Ride or Die brings enough stylistic gusto to its action in the absence of Michael Bay but has a hard time justifying most other decisions, which adopt the tedium rampant in modern blockbuster filmmaking.

The infusion of Fast & Furious DNA into Bad Boys seemed inevitable by the third entry. Who could blame a long-dormant action franchise for taking its cues from one of the most prevalent (and successful) film series in the intervening 17 years? In the case of Ride or Die, that transformation feels complete, and not entirely for the better. Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) wrestle with mortality after the loss of their beloved Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano). Howard is posthumously accused of corruption, and his Bad Boys become fugitives when framed for springing Mike’s lone-wolf-assassin / witch-son Armando from captivity in order to clear the captain’s name. It’s a full-on telenovela by way of Saturday-morning cartoon that would make Vin Diesel proud. It weaves in brand-new characters with a groan (Pantoliano has a daughter in the U.S. Marshals) and serializes events in a way that comes largely close to building, regrettably, a universe.

Ride or Die becomes encumbered with lore in ways a buddy-action romp should not. Notwithstanding the recurrence of a few key characters, the leap from Bad Boys to Bad Boys II was born from a bygone, less-labyrinthian model for action sequels: they’d get bigger, longer, and maybe a little dumber, but you could largely digest them on their own terms. Now even the best action franchises require you’ve seen at least three previous entries or watch a lengthy YouTube recap to keep you up to speed. Mike and Marcus have suffered the same fate. There is an overall inflation here that plagues most legacy IPs––the kind that turns a punchline about Skittles into an eye-rolling gag twenty years later. Some simple character beats are emphasized into nearly maudlin bombast. There are jokes that land well, but Martin Lawrence has devolved into a pratfalling buffoon; deeply unfortunate for someone who was once billed ahead of Will Smith for half this franchise. Smith’s natural presence as a movie star––still on display––is undercut by the film’s unavoidable meta-narrative around his very public downfall. Lowrey is shaken, haunted by choices that have convinced him he’ll only let everyone close to him down when it matters most. Any attempt to pivot him into a wounded old hotshot à la The Color of Money or Top Gun: Maverick are so explicitly manufactured that he may be forever indebted to Lawrence for going full bozo in order to prop him up.

Though a star rehabilitation vehicle may be the frame of Bad Boys: Ride or Die, it’s the action that fuels it, and the outcome is a solidly entertaining director-reel-of-sorts. Teeming with influences and toying with subgenres, Adil and Bilal unabashedly flaunt to studios that they can do it all. Beyond cribbing Michael Bay’s insane Ambulance drone work, the duo treat us to a helicopter crash ripped from Mission: Impossible and a Gun-Fu home invasion out of John Wick. You could steal from worse, and with a kitchen-sink mentality they steal it all incredibly well. Even Jurassic Park and Star Wars appear on this audition tape––all in just under two hours! It’s a bit madcap, motley, stupid––hardly more than any recent output in the genre. Often in spite of itself, Bad Boys: Ride or Die achieves the kind of beat-the-heat blockbuster comfort it sets its sights on, if only to tease you with the vast potential of the filmmakers behind it.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die is now in theaters.

Grade: C+

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