The Bad Boys franchise, dormant for 17 years, has reemerged. This time out, the latest in the series, Bad Boys for Life, is Michael Bay-free, so that, along with the 17-year gap, gives this three-quel a reboot feel.

Honestly, I didn't see a need for another Bad Boys film. Bad Boys II was entirely too loud, too chaotic and too unrealistic to be taken seriously as a movie. The only salvageable dynamic was the onscreen chemistry between co-stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The creators for Life, co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah and co-writers Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan, knew that. So, they stripped the series down and built it back up, using Smith-Lawrence as the project's backbone. That realigned focus is the perfect choice because Life is the sequel this film series deserves.

Also starring Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Nuñez, Kate del Castillo, Jacob Scipio, Theresa Randle and Joe Pantoliano, Life is a revenge tale. The target of the revenge is Mike Lowrey (Smith), the flashy cop who lives for being the hero and the cowboy. His partner, Marcus Burnett (Lawrence), wants to retire, having recently become a grandfather (or “pop pop,” as Mike jokingly calls him). With their paths diverging, a life-changing and life-threatening incident brings the partners together for one last (?) ride.

Even though Bay is out, Life still comes with plenty of action. It's scaled down and more manageable – not nearly as bombastic and nowhere close to having multiple end of the world events every 5 minutes. But if that's something you crave, rest assured Adil & Bilall provide some intense action that will leave you on the edge of your seats. What helps is the notion there are consequences; for once you're not quite sure if our heroes will make it.

For audiences who've paid attention to the previous films, some surprises are also in store.

With the action at a sufficient yet suspenseful level, the rest of Life focuses on Smith and Lawrence and their relationship as partners and friends. The pair fell into their old routine as if they've been apart 17 minutes, not 17 years. And with the characters entering new stages in their lives (whether they know/like it or not), that adds some thoughtfulness which didn't exist before now. In anticipation, Adil & Bilall introduce a new, young group of police officers who use tech and research to nab the bad guys. It's an obvious contrast to Mike and Marcus' experience and street smarts, all of which hints at passing the torch.

But really, why continue the Bad Boys franchise if Smith and Lawrence aren't in it? The real question though: why continue at all? Because Sony has already okayed a Bad Boys 4. My belief is they're looking to somewhat follow in the footsteps of the Mission: Impossible franchise. Remember, at one time Paramount was going to pass the torch from Tom Cruise to Jeremy Renner. At 57 years old, Cruise is still going strong (with two more M:I films on the way). Smith and Lawrence are 51 and 54, respectively, so if Cruise can still do it then Smith and Lawrence can, too. Besides, they all have the same thing going for them – their stardom and charm are irreplaceable. These three are the faces of their franchises, so to paraphrase a quote from the film, Smith and Lawrence are likely to “be runnin' down criminals ‘til (they're) 100.”

Sony wants Smith and Lawrence back for the fourth installment, so right now so those questions don't have to be answered immediately. As long as the films are quality, I'm okay with Bad Boys continuing. But unlike Mission: Impossible, which is almost exclusively an action series, this is a genre-blending action-comedy franchise. That means there will always be a struggle for balance. The balance this time out was just right (with some nice callbacks), but all sequels demand more.

What more can Mike and Marcus do and what more can we expect? Viewers don't need to worry about that because at present there's an entertaining and exciting sequel out that proves Will Smith and Martin Lawrence still got it.

3.5 stars out of 5


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