Colorful Visual Flourishes Can’t Salvage Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Bad Boys: Ride or Die Image. Image Credit to Sony/Columbia Pictures.
Bad Boys: Ride or Die Image. Image Credit to Sony/Columbia Pictures. /

In 1995, some of the biggest musical acts on the planet were TLC and Boyz II Men. They were massive 29 years ago, but it would be incomprehensible to imagine them topping the Billboard charts in 2024. That's no slam on their current talents or long-term pop culture notoriety. It reflects new artists resonating with modern listeners the same way TLC and Boyz II Men captivated people back in 1995. While the music industry has at least somewhat moved on to new faces, the mainstream American film industry hasn’t. One of 1995’s biggest movies, Bad Boys, has now delivered a sequel, Bad Boys: Ride or Die. That title's poised to function as one of June 2024's highest-grossing features. The biggest movie studios still haven’t moved on from the past (see also: this summer’s Twisters and Alien: Romulus).

Such larger cinema trends thoughts are hard to displace given the quality of Bad Boys: Ride or Die. This motion picture isn't good enough to justify this franchise still enduring 29 years later. Every cloud has a silver lining, though. This latest installment does let a pair of talented filmmakers show off their impressive visual chops!

Detective Lieutenants Michael Eugene "Mike" Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Miles Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are growing up. Lowrey's recently married and suffering occasional panic attacks. Burnett, meanwhile, has a heart attack at Lowrey's wedding. Surviving that event propels this comedic motormouth into living life with reckless abandon. He's also obsessed with the past forms his soul has taken. In the middle of all this personal turmoil, the recently deceased Captain Conrad Howard (Joe Pantoliano) is revealed to be behind a series of shady drug and money shipments. It's a devastating blow for Lowrey and Burnett, who considered Howard a personal best friend.

These two knew him so well, in fact, that they’re convinced Howard was innocent. Somebody is setting up this deceased man up. Investigating the source of this corruption requires making contact with several key figures from Lowrey and Burnett's life. This especially includes Lowrey's incarcerated criminal son Armando Aretas (Jacob Scipio). Eventually, that mission will also lead Lowrey and Burnett to going on the lam as fugitives. That’s a lot to do to clear one man’s name. But those Bad Boys, they just always do things with a little extra pizazz.

The newest Bad Boys feature will inevitably have moviegoers mourning a motion picture we’ll never get to see. Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah return from Bad Bays for Life to reaffirm their impressive visual chops as action filmmakers. Their commendable skills make it extra tragic their Batgirl movie's locked in a WarnerDiscovery vault. It’s hard to believe a duo with such genuine visual creativity more than that wretched Flash movie. David Zaslav’s loss, though, is the gain of Bad Boys: Ride or Die. This title flourishes thanks to how comfortable Arbi and Fallah clearly feel in this franchise.

In a happy contrast to the grimy visual schemes of recent action movies like Silent Night, Plane, and Extraction 2, Arbi and Fallah and cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert pepper the world of Ride or Die with lots of neon-lit colors. Bright purple hues flash down on Burnett and Lowery even when they’re just standing around on a houseboat. More frenetic action sequences like a shootout at an art gallery benefit mightily from those vibrant hues. Fights are also heightened through great camerawork choices like a stretch of the finale shot from the POV of a gun that keeps trading hands. Similarly memorable is an elevator skirmish captured through a swooping single-take. There’s even an extended sequence involving Burnett traveling to the afterlife imbued with trippy intersections of fantastical and mundane imagery.

Arbi and Fallah show a welcome affinity for both the stylized and coruscating in Ride or Die. Even seemingly throwaway scenes, like a brief flashback to the violent interrogation of the main villain, obtain vivid golden hues. That embracing of the extravagant is welcome. Unfortunately, these directors are working with a much weaker script than the one for Bad Boys for Life. Like most franchises spanning over three installments, the Bad Boys universe has lots of plot threads and characters to juggle. Inevitably, the excess of storylines (which also includes Howard's daughter, played by Rhea Seehorn, wanting revenge for her framed father) drags down the proceedings.

Cutting out extraneous subplots and fleshing out things like the Lowery and Aretas father/son bond would’ve helped tremendously. It doesn't further help that the script by Chris Bremner and Will Beall is at war with itself. On the one hand, Ride or Die is a propulsive fugitive movie. The drama stems from Lowery and Burnett being totally on their own. However, the lengthy comedic set-pieces involving wacky banter and the overstuffed supporting cast undercut the stakes. Lowery and Burnett are never truly “on their own." Meanwhile, the endless back-and-forth quips make one forget about the larger sources of conflict. It’s hard to convey a claustrophobic atmosphere full of deceit when there’s time for a detour to a strip club complete with a comedy star cameo.

Most fatally, though, is the script informing audiences who is behind this evil scheme well before Lowery and Burnett. That choice is a peculiar one. The larger story tries to wring a lot of drama out of the question “who can you trust?”. However, moviegoers are well aware of whose good or bad. Even a "secret villain" is easily predictable for viewers who've seen San Andreas. It’s another element of Bad Boys: Ride or Die suffering from juggling too many plates. Shifting the script's perspectives to just Lowery and Burnett, rather than constantly cutting to villains they know nothing about, could’ve made for a more streamlined and exciting movie.

At least Arbi and Fallah bring plenty of DayGlo neon colors to even the most tedious Ride or Die set pieces. Even that aforementioned strip club digression bursts with imaginative color choices. The screenwriters and directors also seem to be in prime creative unison during a fun finale. Bremner and Beall creatively use a gator theme park as the backdrop for that set piece. That’s an inspired locale for an action film set in Miami, Florida. It also nicely keeps the scope of the movie grounded somewhat in reality. No need to suddenly have everyone fighting in space just for the sake of "a big finish." An abandoned amusement park will do nicely. Oh, and this environment allows a gigantic albino alligator to function as a Chekhov’s Gun. It’s always a good thing when movies feature large hungry animals.

As for the most important part of the movie, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence continue to have affable chemistry. However, watching the movie, one can’t help but remember a comment Barry Sonnenfeld made to Entertainment Weekly in 2002. Said comment revolved around a lesson he learned from the Wild Wild West debacle. Specifically, he felt audiences had no interest watching Will Smith play the straight man. The role Smith and company avoided 20+ years ago is exactly the archetype he inhabits here. Smith is largely playing the stern parent to Lawrence’s goofy childlike candy-obsessed Burnett.

Maybe Smith's buttoned-up mode is why Bad Boys: Ride or Die is too rigid for its own good. Then again, that could be the inevitable outcome of sticking with a franchise for this long. Not even the most ingenious Arbi and Fallah visual touches can make the hottest 1995 action movie concept a 2024 must-see. There’s a reason Real McCoy isn’t burning up the charts today. Some 1990s pop culture staples can’t last forever.

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