Bad Boys: Ride or Die 

(dirs. Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah)

By: Adam Freed

Almost anything in Hollywood can be faked.  Time, place, appearance, age, costumes, are all subject to the whims of the greatest masters of make believe in global history.  One thing that goliath studios cannot falsify however is chemistry.  The invisible bond that cosmically draws scene partners together either exists, or does not, there is no option to “fix it in post”.  The great differentiator between on-screen duos that soar and those that sink is the unspoken biochemical connection between the two. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have shared an undeniable collaborative bond first forged on the set of Michael Bay’s highly experimental Bad Boys (1995).  In the 29 years since, the duo have shared mutual career arcs offering plenty of highs in addition to a few moments of public friction, not to mention the Oscars slap heard round the world.  Yet through the roller coaster ride of two sizable Hollywood careers, here stand Martin and Will, as inviting and charismatic as they’ve ever been, headlining the endlessly endearing action comedy Bad Boys: Ride or Die, the franchise’s fourth installment, and most successful since the original.

To call Bad Boys: Ride or Die an action comedy is a bit of a misnomer as the film hits harder as a comedy than it does an action film.  The action is certainly compelling, and makes some bold and brilliant choices in the way that the bombastic violence is presented, credit to its co-directors Adil and Bilall, but there exists a surfeit amount of “been there done that” fatigue that permeates the more intense portion of the production.  As a chemistry reliant buddy comedy though, Bad Boys: Ride or Die is inescapable evidence of the power of chemistry.  It boasts countless laugh out loud moments mostly propped on the capable shoulders of Martin Lawrence, who plays foil to Smith’s straight man, in delivering what may be the best on-screen performance of Lawrence’s comedic career.  Martin Lawrence, always second billed in the franchise, has long been framed as the comedic relief to Smith’s action superstar.  Yet here more than two years removed from Will Smith’s career halting moment of weakness under the heat of Hollywood’s brightest lights, it is Lawrence who plays hero to his partner through what has been the nadir of Smith’s illustrious career.  Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett has always been framed as an afterthought, the smaller, slower, less physically adept member of the “Bad Boys” duo yet now with a Herculean comedic effort, spearheads Smith’s career reclamation project.  Martin Lawrence’s work in Ride or Die should be considered among the most selflessly redemptive in history.  

What Bad Boys: Ride or Die lacks in intellectual plot provocation, it makes up for in feel good fun.  Through the bullets, bombs and simplistically motivated static antagonists, Ride or Die promises to remind audiences of a simpler era at the theater.  An era in which studio executives patiently awaited box office returns rather than white knuckling each release as if their were toes curled precariously over the edge of bankruptcy’s bottomless chasm. This callback can be partially credited to taking a page from the critically divisive Fast and the Furious franchise as Bad Boys has developed a predictable expectation of consistent supporting characters, a family of sorts.  At the center of this revolving door of supporting roles though are Smith and Lawrence, as joyfully unified as ever, a duo that despite their ages (55 and 59 respectively) seem to be blessed by the entertainment fountain of youth, as vibrant and charismatically attractive as the day they first saved their native Miami from a nefarious band of narcotics traffickers.  Whether or not this is the saga’s final chapter, will most likely be determined by box office returns over the next few weeks. One immutable truth however occupies a higher plane than any financial considerations, the chemistry shared between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith is palpable and legendary.

Target Score: 7.5/10   - If Bad Boys: Ride or Die were billed as a comedy action film rather than the other way around, it may rank as one of the most notable in history.  As is, the violent and aggressively paced sequel still succeeds on multiple fronts.  Most prevalently as a reminder that Martin Lawrence and Will Smith share a timeless bond that will undoubtedly echo long beyond the duration of their respective careers.