Bad Boys for Life (2020)

Bad Boys for Life (2020)

It's a funny feeling to be out of step with pop culture. I like a lot of things that are poppy. But when it happens in an egregious fashion, it gives me perspective on my taste. And the last time I recall being suckered in to to something I should have known better was with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's The World's End (2013). I read a review that suggested it was an indictment of nostalgia and being stuck in a state of arrested development. An alien invasion thriller/comedy with a thoughtful streak sounds good. I like Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, they're all fun with infectious attitudes. It had a 90+% rating on Rotten tomatoes (settled down to a damning 89%). It had to be good, right? After the brilliance of Hot Fuzz (2007) and begrudgingly[1], Shaun of the Dead (2004), there had to be some there there.

I'm not working my way up to say Bad Boys for Life is only for philistines, but rather noodle on what it is, and what it has in common with At World's End in particular, and why I had such an adverse reaction to each. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg had said they thought it would be funny to see a movie where the saviors of humanity are completely blitzed, and I think that's kind of funny, but what I don't find appealing and never have is the idea of a pub crawl and the sort of people who would go on one. Think of the Santas trundling through midtown, blocking traffic, drinking themselves into a stupor. Maybe I'm just a crank, but who are these people, and how I am different from them? How does one find theirselves among them? Because I'd like to know, truly; it is just unknowable to me.

There's a moment in Bad Boys for Life where Will Smith's character, Nick Lowery, is entreated upon to "Look in the mirror and see yourself for who you are" (instead of who you want or think yourself to be). I can't remember who exactly says this to him[2], but there is an earnest attempt to embue these characters with some sense of purpose and mortality. Of course, it comes out in the same way it does in something like The World's End, which is to say mocking masculinity, and suggesting that resisting anyting but a hard-assed determinism to Do-The-Right-Thing is effeminate. Sure, you drop the baby off at the spa retreat with grandma and you know it's going to piss her off because you're intruding on her private space and time, but you do it because there's a pecking order, and there are Bad Guys out there that need getting.

Martin Lawrence's character in this movie cries a lot: the birth of his grandchild, the death of his coworker. You can see the movie's philosophy about this when it cuts to him crying in a fake-out. We're meant to believe someone important to him has passed away, but oh instead this tough cop is really just crying at his daughter's wedding (following a cliche about making an honest woman out of his daughter). It's a little disengenuous and I think that can be fun[3], but here because of these Bad Boys, it's embued with too much inherent "softness" or what I would argue is essentially a straight man's fear of being gay (#nohomo). And I bet this shit, in spite of not remembering specifically, is exactly why I didn't like The World's End because if there's going to be any reason for a group of dumbass boys getting upset on a pub crawl, it's going to be due to a palpable sense of their sexuality being compromised or shifted in some way that is out of their control of defining the boundaries of that experience. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'll revisit it sometime. I just remember feeling squarely in the other 10% while watching that movie, which is exactly where I found myself watching Bad Boys for Life[4]. Martin Lawrence's softness is used as an impediment for him to overcome his reticence and stillness (his retirement) to become a badass (for life) again.

He made a pact with God Himself to allow his friend to live, and his contract was that he'd participate in no more violence. This leads to an amusing (but seriously conspicuous) scene where Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are allowed to perform a Sorkinism in the middle of an action scene. The one where the serial doubter of religion and God's hand doubts the very signs before him that must be divine lest he be so stubborn he cannot accept faith when the truth of it is right before his eyes. Amid motorcyclists with machine guns and a hovering helicopter where the antagonist holds a rocket launcher (I guess he only brought one rocket), they earnestly lob this dialogue back and forth while attempting to sell the illusion that they're on a sidecar-equipped motorcycle rushing across a Miami freeway amid evening rush hour traffic chasing and fleeing the bad cats simultaneously.

This "softness" transcends into outright homophobia through the use of the word "penetrate", which the movie suggests is an attempt to make a human connection with another person (be they a throw-away lawyer character coked out who clearly needs to get his ass beat) or the antagonist, who only needs a strong father figure to see the error of his ways and be forgiven his scenes of murdering policemen, lawyers, captains and politicians. I guess a little man-to-man love is all these dudes need to willingly accept being in jail as a path toward their salvation. Jesus.

1. I have been nursing zombie fatigue since the early 00's. Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead and the Danny Boyle movies are the ones that set me off. Fast zombies? Don't they understand Romero's original metaphor? What are they doing? Simon Pegg argued for a return to zombie's original values (and an attack on complacency and laziness at the same time) but by then I was done with them.
2. I'll admit it, I haven't seen Bad Boys or Bad Boys II. Did I need to see them to understand the plot? Or would I have just been drudgingly familiar with the characters?
3. Off the top of my head, compare Ryan Gosling's sobbing in The Nice Guys or even Simon Pegg in The World's End where he says the pub crawl is all he's got to this, or the Fast & Furious franchise.
4. Though Bad Boys for Life sits at 79%, and will likely eke downwards. Compared to The World's End, that makes this movie 11%5-ugh worse. It felt worse. No Martin Freeman, probably.
5-ugh. I don't put all my eggs in the Rotten Tomatoes basket. It's dumb that something can have "90%" and everyone thought it was "meh-postive." Whereas a movie that's devisive and challenging that people love or hate ends up at 50%. It can still feel alienating when a movie has an audience score of 96% percent, as Bad Boys for Life does right now. Seriously?