Movie reviews: 'Bad Boys for Life' breathes new life into dated franchise
This image released by Sony Pictures shows Martin Lawrence, right, and Will Smith in a scene from "Bad Boys for Life." (Ben Rothstein/Columbia Pictures-Sony via AP)
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE: 3 ½ STARS
The boys are back town.
Almost seventeen years after “Bad Boys II” Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith), are longer in the tooth but still ready for some over-the-top action in a one-last-job movie.
“I've never trusted anybody but you,” says Lowery to Burnett in “Bad Boys for Life.” “I'm asking you, man. Bad Boys, one last time?”
Once “bad boys for life,” the team of Burnett and Lowrey is coming apart at the seams. Middle age and career aspirations have sent the once inseparable team in opposite directions. Burnett, now a grandfather, is one the edge of retirement—"Mike, we got more time behind us than in front,” he says.—while Lowery is still hungry for the adrenaline rush that comes with police work. “I’m going to be running down criminals till I’m a hundred,” he says.
Their lives have led them in different directions but when Armando Armas Tapia (Jacob Scipio), a drug kingpin and son of a man Burnett and Lowery took down years ago, resurfaces looking for vengeance, the two cops put the band back together. “Family is the only thing that matters,” Burnett says to Lowery. “I’m not letting you go on this suicide mission alone.”
“Bad Boys for Life” doesn’t feel so much like a sequel or a reboot as it does a tribute to the Michael Bay films of the o-so-many-years-ago. The patented “Bad Boys” high style feels like nostalgia for the 1990s when movie violence came with dark humor and buddy cop charisma.
The story of a vengeful drug dealer is about as deep as a lunch try but directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who have clearly worshiped at the altar of Bay, understand that the success or failure of a “Bad Boys” movie isn’t about the story but the sparks generated by Smith and Lawrence. The pair, now aged 51 and 54 respectively, fall back into their roles effortlessly, having some fun with their middle-aged selves. “Bad boys ain’t really boys anymore.”
One effectively staged scene compares and contrasts the partners and their stages of life. It’s a funny sequence that intercuts Lowery putting on his Ray Bans with a flourish while Burnett struggles to get his reading glasses on his face, etc. It’s a nice light show-me-don’t-tell-me scene that sets up the dynamic between the two.
The wild action scenes that follow tend toward orgiastic videogame style shootouts, particularly the climatic battle, but succeed because the CGI is kept to a minimum and the gunshots are punctuated by Lawrence’s quips.
“Bad Boys for Life” keeps the camera in constant motion, filling the screen with equal parts over-the-top violence and humour, breathing new life into a franchise that was declared dead when George W. Bush was still president.
DOLITTLE: 2 STARS
Another franchise, another eccentric genius. Robert Downey Jr. laves Tony Stark behind to return to the big screen in a reboot of a remake of a classic story of a man who could talk to animals.
When we first meet Dr. John Dolittle (Downey) he’s at the Howard Hughes recluse stage of his life. The passing of his wife has left him despondent, unable to enjoy the company of humans so he lives in seclusion with only a menagerie of animals for company.
To pass the time he plays chess with a timid gorilla named Chee-Chee (voice of Rami Malek) and in conversation with the various animals who crowd his home, including his trusted macaw advisor Polynesia (voice of Emma Thompson) and Jip (voice of Tom Holland), a bespectacled dog.
“I don’t care about anyone, anywhere, anymore,” the doctor says.
Of course, that’s not true. When animal lover Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) shows up at Dolittle’s gate with an injured squirrel (voice of Craig Robinson)—“I’m too beautiful to die,” the squirrel says.—on the same day the doctor is summoned to Buckingham Palace to see the ailing Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley), he is brought back into the human world. Her Majesty is gravely ill and if she dies the treasury will take the animal sanctuary Dr. Dolittle calls home. Worse, all his animals will be thrown out into the world during hunting season.
To save the Queen‘s life he must embark on a journey to find the Eden Tree and its magical, healing fruit. It’s trip fraught with danger and is the same journey that cost his beloved wife her life. Add to that some palace intrigue, an island of misfits and thieves, turbo boosting whales, a vengeful squirrel and even a dragon and you have a new chapter in the life of the man who can talk to animals.
Kids will likely find “Dolittle’s” chatty animals amusing but this isn’t simply a movie about wise cracking beasts. At its beating heart it is a movie about pain, but, as one character says, not the kind of hurt inflicted by a bullet or a knife. It’s about the agony of losing someone. Dolittle’s heart is broken by the death of his wife, and that ache is the engine that propels the entire movie. So, while the young'uns may giggle at the animals but the movie’s underlying downer vibe and generic approach suggests that Dolittle’s wife isn’t the only lifeless part of this movie.
Downey plays the character with a sense of bemused confusion, topped with a mealy-mouthed Billy Connolly impression that changes from scene to scene. It’s a pantomime performance that makes the best of his finely tuned comic timing but feels sloppy and needlessly mannered.
“Dolittle” contains some good pop psychology for children about working together—"Teamwork makes the dream work!”—and facing their fears but overall a movie featuring talking animals shouldn’t be this banal.
LES MISERABLES: 4 STARS
In an age of remakes and reboots comes an unexpected one, a radical updating of “Les Miserables,” Victor Hugo’s classic novel of broken dreams and sacrifice. Set in modern day France, the new film “Les Miserables” eschews the grandeur of the Broadway musical of the same name to tell the gritty story of the downtrodden and three members of an anti-crime brigade.
Taking place over the course of two, event-filled days, the action begins when the even-tempered rookie Stéphane (Damien Bonnard) joins the suburban Montfermeil Anti-Crime Squad. Teamed with Gwada (Djebril Zonga) and Chris (Alexis Manenti, who also co-wrote the script), hair-tempered alpha male nicknamed Pink Pig patrol the crime ridden area of Les Bosquets. When one of the local kids, Issa (Issa Perica), steals a lion cub from a circus it sets into motion a series of events that brings to a boil the already simmering relationship between the police and the townsfolk.
Gritty and naturalistic, “Les Miserables” occasionally uses a hammer where a softer touch would suffice but the picture it paints of social unrest is vivid and unforgettable. The slow build to the explosive ending effectively echoes the tradition of revolution popular in French history and storytelling.
Introducing talented non-actors into the mix gives the movie a realistic, cinema-verité feel to the tale of injustice and anger. It’s often not an easy watch but the revolt against oppression is an important and timely topic.
“Les Miserables” is a stirring debut for director Ladj Ly, one that is both thought provoking and an indictment of failed social policy.