‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ review: Smith-Lawrence comedic chemistry gives it life

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It’s hard to quit Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.

The duo first paired for the 1995 Michael Bay-directed action-comedy “Bad Boys” and are a joy from the opening sequence of the franchise’s more-entertaining-than-not fourth entry, “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” which speeds into theaters this week.

As veteran Miami police detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, respectively, Smith and Lawrence pick right up with their characters’ signature bickering, Marcus insisting to the fast-driving Mike that he’s going to be sick if he doesn’t get some ginger ale. Mike agrees to stop the car, giving Marcus 90 seconds to run into a store to buy the ginger ale — and ONLY the ginger ale — with the snack-loving Marcus, upon grabbing the soda, housing a pack of Skittles and ordering a day-old hotdog at the counter. He may have gotten away with it, too, had it not been for the stickup man who slows him down and with whom the cops quickly deal. (By this point, Mike is highly displeased with both the criminal and his longtime partner.)

Perhaps you are trying to quit Smith in light of “the slap heard around the world,” Smith’s infamous introduction of his hand to presenter Chris Rock’s face during the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony. It’s been pretty easy until now, as Smith was last in theaters later in 2022, briefly, with the so-so slavery action-drama “Emancipation.”

How, if at all, would this movie — like its 2020 processor, “Bad Boys for Life, directed by Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi, aka Adil & Bilall — handle the slap? Well, late in the affair, an enlightened Marcus literally slaps some sense into Mike at a climactic moment. That’s not going to make the whole thing go away, of course, but it’s probably as well as the production could do.

In this tale, after suffering a heart attack at Mike’s wedding, Marcus is chock full of said enlightenment, however questionable some of it may be.

While unconscious, he experiences a vision in which the pair’s late boss, Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), informs him it’s not his time. Marcus awakens with a wide smile on his face, pulls out the tubes stuck to him and promptly exits the room where Mike sleeps slouched in a chair. Soon, on the hospital roof, where he gives Miami a show in his hospital gown, Marcus tells Mike that he, Mike, soon will face a great test but that he is up to it.

“Just know: You’re good,” Marcus says.

(This all might sound more prophetic to Mike were Marcus not soon talking about his discovery that they are, in fact, soulmates, that this is only one of many existences they’ve shared. In one for which Marcus apologizes, Mike was a disobedient donkey and Marcus his cruel owner, he insists. “Hey, how long you think your brain was without oxygen?” Mike responds.)

Mike will be tested, of course, after he and Marcus set about clearing the aforementioned Howard’s name after the deceased is framed for being in bed with the drug trade.

The flick’s formidable villain is James McGrath (Eric Dane of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Euphoria”), but it’s clear someone within the department is involved, as well. That makes it hard for our heroes to trust even their current boss (and Mike’s ex), Rita Secada (Paola Nuñez), if not their young former colleagues in the Advanced Miami Metro Operations (AMMO) team — Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens) and Dorn (Alexander Ludwig).

Another returning character is Mike’s estranged son, Armando Aretas (Jacob Scipio), who’s been imprisoned for his actions while working for a drug cartel. He is the one person who can identify McGrath, so he is set to be transferred to Miami.

Will Smith appears in a scene from “Bad Boys: Ride or Die.” (Frank Masi/Sony/TNS)

To this point, less than halfway through the affair and despite the high stakes, “Ride or Die” is an easy-breezy joy ride fueled by its humor. However, Adil & Bilall shift gears, leaning more heavily on the action half of the action-comedy formula. And while a sequence set aboard the prisoner-transport helicopter in which Mike and Marcus are accompanying Amando to Miami mostly has the goods, Adil & Bilall and their moviemaking collaborators generally lean way too heavily on tilted cameras and quick cuts in an attempt to ratchet up the excitement whenever bullets are flying and things are exploding. They use drone shots. They use first-person video game-like shots.

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Most of it is more distracting than it is effective.

Worse, the screenplay from Chris Bremner, also a co-writer on “Bad Boys for Life,” and Will Beall (“Aquaman”) leans too heavily on the never-compelling father-son dynamic between Smith and Armando. (Interestingly, a heart attack Beall suffered inspired the Marcus storyline, but that monumental life event is mostly played for laughs.)

It doesn’t matter all that much, but it must be noted the talents of Rhea Seehorn — typically terrific on “Better Call Saul” — are wasted on a one-dimentional character, Howard’s daughter, a U.S. Marshall agent longing to kill Amando for his role in her father’s death.

Ultimately at least a slight improvement over the underwhelming “Bad Boys for Life,” “Ride or Die” largely plays to its sophomoric strengths, right down to the site of those all-but-obligatory slaps: an abandoned alligator-themed amusement park where a big ol’ gator named Duke is rumored to still roam.

Its greatest strength is Smith and Lawrence together. Quit them if you can, but our guess is this isn’t the last time the “Bad Boys” come for you.

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’

Where: Theaters.

When: June 7.

Rated: R for strong violence, language throughout and some sexual references.

Runtime: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

Stars (of four): 2.5.


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