Bad Boys: Ride or Die Review - Still Riding, Not Dying

Does Bad Boys: Ride or Die live up to the legacy of the buddy-cop action-comedy franchise?

Bad Boys: Ride or Die marks the fourth installment of the Bad Boys franchise, which now spans four different decades ('90s, '00s, '10s, '20s) and has been something of a meta-echo for the lives and careers of stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. In that sense, Bad Boys 4 arrives at a time when Smith has had tougher life challenges, while Lawrence has been getting back into his groove – a far cry from the behind-the-scenes challenges of the previous film, Bad Boys for Life. Thankfully, returning directors Adil & Bilall understood the meta-subtext assignment, while their skills as action/comedy directors have matured in a major way. Bad Boys: Ride or Die is the rare case of a franchise getting better with age – and the audience is the biggest winner. 

The story of Bad Boys: Ride or Die finds Detective Mike Lowrey (Smith) turning a major corner in his life: giving up his playboy bachelor persona and marrying his therapist, Christine (Melanie Liburd). Mike's newfound maturity and love connection have an unexpected dark side: the once fearless action junkie starts experiencing anxiety attacks, crippled by the thought of losing what he now values so much. When Detective Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) suffers a dire health scare, he takes on the opposite view on life, no longer living as the stressed-out man he's always been. 

Mike and Marcus are so caught up in their issues that they never see it coming when corrupt forces in their department begin a campaign to frame them and the late Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) as cartel collaborators. The only person who can help Mike and Marcus clear their name is Mike's estranged, hitman son Armando (Jacob Scipio), who is unfortunately locked up in prison. Before long, the Bad Boys are on the run, with their enemies and various law enforcement agencies all coming after them – including some people with a very personal score to settle against Armando. 

Bad Boys movies are built on two key elements: the chemistry and banter between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and some high-octane action set in the beautiful backdrop of Miami, Florida. Bad Boys: Ride or Die hits on both fronts in novel ways; the remixed "Freaky Friday" concept for the character story works extremely well, as Mike and Marcus's dynamic gets humorously switched, with Marcus being the confident one and Mike being the nervous one, weighted by so many violent experiences in his life. It's clearly a meta performance for Smith, who has endured years of controversy off-screen between Bad Boys 3 and Bad Boys 4, while for Lawrence it seems that he's finally comfortable being back in the saddle as a comedic movie star, as opposed to how Bad Boys for Life clearly dealt in part with the challenges of his late-game return to acting. The pair haven't been this funny since the first Bad Boys, which also leaned into the idea of Lowrey and Burnett having to switch personalities, as one impersonated the other. Jacob Scipio gets to have much more fun as Armando this time – especially when the film adds him into the mix with Smith and Lawrence, creating an entirely new three-way dynamic of banter and jokes. 

On the directorial front, Bad Boys 4 is to Bad Boys 3 what Bad Boys II was to the original Bad Boys. Like Michael Bay, Adil and Bilall have made an exponential leap in terms of scale when it comes to the action set pieces; Bad Boys: Ride or Die plays like more of a Mission: Impossible film if it were set entirely in one city. There are car chases, shootouts, a helicopter battle, and other little action beats throughout the film – and some of them are constructed in truly novel and thrilling ways on par with a John Wick flick. But it's never too serious, with Adil and Bilall invoking (in the best way) the 2010s director team Neveldine and Taylor (Crank) with their willingness to try wild camera concepts and angles. Whether it's prolonged close-ups during dialogue and banter, or some video-game-style POV during a final action sequence, there's an ambitious visual novelty to the film that keeps it looking fresh and fun for action fans. 

Better yet, Adil, Bilall, and screenwriters Chris Bremmer and Will Beall (Training Day) understand that by this fourth film, Bad Boys has a whole world and mythology to it. Ride or Die pulls together story elements from all three previous films to "reveal" a secret conspiracy that's been unfolding all along, and the serious emotional beats of those films are re-examined according to the cumulative weight of living violent lives. There's an actual beating heart to this story of aging men coming to terms with mortality, while tallying the spiritual value of their lives, connections, and legacy, in hopes of earning the word "wiser" in conjunction with getting "older." 

The directors have such a firm hold on the reins of this franchise world that even bit characters from previous films are brought back and given updated arcs that pay off all four decades of this series run. Most of the supporting characters and story threads from Bad Boys for Life are also brought back, and they continue to develop in perfect step alongside Mike and Marcus. That goes for AMMO squad members Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), and Captain Rita Secada (Paola Nunez), as well as the members of Marcus's family, and various criminals Lowrey and Burnett used as sources. There are also some familiar faces who join the franchise (like the scary new villain played by Eric Dane) or some celeb cameos that will have fans laughing and buzzing online. 

Bad Boys: Ride or Die plays like a confident step forward for a re-invigorated franchise, rather than the last bits of gas leaking out of a dying one. It proves that Will Smith and Martin Lawrence can keep driving with characters forward – no matter what life and age bring their way – and it's still some of the most fun movie audiences can have, riding along with them. And it's a good ride – all the way to a gut-busting ending. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Bad Boys: Ride or Die hits theaters on June 7th.