Bad Boys: Ride or Die review – Smith and Lawrence deliver best instalment since original

Duo's comedic chemistry is coupled with surprising emotional heft that takes action franchise's fourth instalment to new heights

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys: Ride or Die. Photo: Columbia Pictures
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It’s been proven that keeping a film franchise alive for an extended period can be extremely difficult. Many movie series tend to fizzle out by their fourth instalment – but somehow, someway, Bad Boys: Ride or Die does the exact opposite.

Once again directed by the Moroccan-Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who took the reins from director Michael Bay with 2020's Bad Boys For Life, the latest chapter breathes new vitality into the long-beloved buddy-cop franchise. Hollywood stalwarts Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reprise their roles, and despite nearly 30 years passing since the release of the first Bad Boys film, their chemistry is more palpable than ever.

In Bad Boys: Ride or Die, Miami detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett face their most personal and potentially dangerous mission yet, and while the film can be extremely funny at times, it’s the innovative direction of Adil and Bilall, as they credit themselves professionally, that holds it all together.

From the outset, the film establishes itself as both a continuation and a reinvention of the franchise, even more so than the third instalment, which proved to be a hit in 2020. As with that film, Ride or Die's most striking aspect is its visual style.

Adil and Bilall, known for their dynamic and energetic direction, infuse the film with a vibrant aesthetic tailor-made for a modern audience. The duo's use of bold colours, rapid camera movements and slick first-person shooter-styled action sequences all play a part in making the film stand out from contemporary rivals in the genre.

The action sequences, in particular, are a testament to their immense skill. Each set piece is meticulously detailed, from explosive car chases to intense hand-to-hand combat. Concentrating on the minutiae of the situation, and always centring the characters within it, makes the film both thrilling and emotionally engaging, with palpable suspense throughout.

But beyond the edge-of-your-seat action and laugh-out-loud banter between the seasoned lead duo, the film also finds time to delve deeper into its characters' development as they chart new territory in their lives. This elevates the film from a by-numbers popcorn movie to something more resonant. Both Smith and Lawrence thrive in their quieter, character-driven scenes and prove that this franchise gets stronger the more it allows these characters to grow old and become vulnerable.

Marcus, played by Martin Lawrence, really stands out. His character has a near-death experience in the first act, which catapults the story in a hilarious yet strangely touching direction.

Will Smith's Mike, too, reveals a new weakness; throughout the film, he's plagued by debilitating panic attacks. In those moments, it doesn't feel like we're getting the action-film Smith. Rather, this is the Smith who won an Academy Award for Best Actor just two years ago.

BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE

Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano

Rating: 3.5/5

And of course, there is no Bad Boys without a standout soundtrack. The titles of the films have often made reference to popular songs, after all. The first film was named after the 1987 track Bad Boys Reply by Inner Circle. The most recent film, Bad Boys for Life, was a nod to the 2001 song by Diddy. But now, rather than giving the film a sense of time and place as they did back in the 1995 original, the classic '90s hip-hop songs blaring throughout bring a sense of nostalgia to the proceedings – a welcome callback to a bygone era.

If Bad Boys does indeed continue on to a fifth chapter, as Smith teased to The National, they have honed a winning formula here in the fourth, the best film since the 1995 original. As the characters continue to flirt with mortality as their ages advance, the ensuing challenges should make them even more compelling to spend time with, allowing these actors to show their dramatic chops to complement their trademark comedy.

Updated: June 13, 2024, 4:56 AM
BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE

Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano

Rating: 3.5/5