Bad Boys: Ride or Die benefits from Will Smith and Martin Lawrence's chemistry but little else

click to enlarge Bad Boys: Ride or Die benefits from Will Smith and Martin Lawrence's chemistry but little else
Lawrence and Smith's charisma still pops, but everything else flops.

If a van explodes in the streets of Miami after a duo of maniac cops get in yet another obligatory gunfight and everyone is around to hear, does Martin Lawrence still shout out a silly one-liner? If you live in the world of Bad Boys, not only is the answer always yes... but it's just another average Tuesday. That the city is still standing after a fourth movie of murder and mayhem is more remarkable than anything playing out in the latest raucous yet frustratingly rote sequel.

But the titular Bad Boys Mike (Will Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) have never let a pesky little thing like public safety get in the way of unleashing old-fashioned chaos when working a case. There's no problem in the world that they can't solve with a combination of bullets and banter.

And wouldn't you know it, this time the case is personal. After their departed captain is framed for corruption, the two partners must get to the bottom of who is really behind it. However, first Mike gets hitched, and Marcus has to recover from a near-death experience after wobbling too hard on the dance floor. The absurdity of this start soon gives way to a ride lacking in well-constructed action and humor.

The biggest surprise of Bad Boys: Ride or Die, the second film to be directed by the duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (as opposed series originator Michael Bay), doesn't come from its painfully familiar by-the-numbers case. No, the biggest surprise is how sluggish this action flick is, getting lost in the woods as the duo go on the run.

While it flirts with being a more ridiculous romp surrounding death, drugs and the afterlife, it's also a bizarrely self-serious experience with some of the most forgettable action of the franchise. Though it initially tries to give the story something approaching gravitas by bringing in the great Rhea Seehorn (Better Call Saul) to play a new character with personal ties of her own to the case, she is completely wasted, which indicates where the film's true priorities lie.

Mike having panic attacks combined with an odd reverence for the original films is more unintentionally comical than compelling. For every moment where Marcus plays real-life Frogger (he had a vision saying it was not his time to die and thus thinks himself invincible), there is a litany of scattered shootouts that, whatever you think of him, lack the kinetic energy of Bay's past films. Even as there are plenty of drone shots, only once near the end does this feel fluid and serve the action. A standout fight in a kitchen is the best of the bunch as not only does it actually feel exciting, but it serves up the film's best punchline based on who is brawling. But mostly Ride or Die offers up poorly staged and shot action.

What still works is the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence. Though they've been doing these movies for more than two decades now, nothing about their back-and-forth feels tired. Where many of the other one-note characters are often excruciatingly stiff, they ensure that the heart of the film has enough humor to almost smooth over its many rough spots. But for all the potentially audacious and absurd moments of earned humor early in the film, things quickly fall back on standard jokes and lackluster action.

There is a late gag where Smith is slapped multiple times in the face that could be read as being a reference to his infamous moment at the Oscars, but that is merely a small jolt in a film that largely lacks the juice. When it comes to the question posed in its title, the film neither rides nor dies. Instead, it just coasts along.

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Apparently, run this franchise on fumes as long as they can.

One And a Half Stars Bad Boys: Ride or Die
Directed by Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah
Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence

Expo '74: Films from the Vault @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 8
  • or