On Tuesday, The Hollywood Reporter broke the story that director Joe Carnahan was exiting Bad Boys for Life (a/k/a Bad Boys III). Their story cites two likely reasons for the madman auteur’s departure – the hazy “scheduling differences” (perhaps to pursue his Frank Grillo-fronted Raid remake), or the purposefully ill-defined “creative differences”. For this writer, the news came with conflicted feelings.
On one hand, it’d be great to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence stomp a new asshole into Miami, Cuba, Russia, China, or wherever the fuck Carnahan’s recently rewritten draft sends Detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett. Carnahan’s a measurably tough filmmaker, having already helmed a bona fide existential classic in The Grey, and one of the better post-French Connection cop pictures with Narc. His somewhat uneven Smokin’ Aces proved that he had more than a little crazy in him, and his A-Team is one helluva good time at the movies, demonstrating that Carnahan could inject vitality into even the most outlandish studio attempts at crafting a franchise out of little more than ethereal nostalgia.
On the other hand, do we really need Bad Boys for Life? Beyond the palpable preposterousness of that ponderance (technically we don’t need any movie, ever), Bad Boys II is a heap of pure excess that really no one should attempt to top except Michael Bay. However, while the Master of Bayhem was off wasting time on trash fire Transformers movies* in the decade plus that’s passed since BB II, the action picture experienced a bit of a renaissance.
Just today, we were #blessed with possibly the most overstuffed trailer of all time for The F8 of the Furious, a movie that sees its series having evolved (over the course of sixteen years and seven sequels) from a simple street racing Point Break rip-off to a melodramatic treatise on the virtues of “family” that just happens to involve an arctic submarine and Charlize Theron as a high-tech terrorist who can remotely control all the world’s cars at once (I think? Frankly, this writer was overwhelmed by it all). The current pop cinema landscape is not only welcoming this sort of filmic foolishness, but treating it as a genuine event. So while it’d still be senseless to try and label the shanty town rampage that ended Bad Boys II “quaint” by comparison, the enquiry as to whether or not a third installment is truly warranted is worth asking. We’ve already seen one revolutionary fisticuffs franchise try and fail to bring back its central ass-kicker with Jason Bourne. Watching Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett join Jason in the “shoulda stayed retired” clique would be a massive bummer.
The necessity of a third Bad Boys picture is also called into question by a DTV action market that’s minted its own marquee stars and beamed them straight into your living room. Scott Adkins (Universal Solider: Day of Reckoning) seems to have a new movie coming out every other week, in which he spin-kicks his way through the clearly choreographed, shot and cut set pieces of Hard Target 2, Eliminators, and Boyka: Undisputed IV (whose majesty you’ll FINALLY be able to witness April 18). ‘17 also sees Adkins punching dudes out in Savage Dog, American Assassin, Altar Rock and Accident Man (which re-teams the British badass with his Undisputed II adversary, Michael Jai White).
Hong Kong and Thailand came together to bring us the gleefully violent Kill Zone 2, which has the decency of not requiring viewers to see its predecessor (which is still pretty good) and gets martial arts superstars Wu Jing and Tony Jaa mixed up in an organ-harvesting conspiracy. We’re living in an era that’s now coming close to matching the Cannon Films heyday of the 80s, whose original, oily brawls are even being remade/sequalized (Kickboxer: Vengeance is totally worth your time, as Jean-Claude Van Damme hams it up behind sunglasses for the entire runtime). Spending $140 million on one Bad Boys when we could use that budget to produce several of these microaggressions just seems silly when you get down to it.
Even if action connoisseurs decide to leave their couches for the night, there are midrange movies being made that stand as modern high water marks. John Wick: Chapter 2 is one of the better genre entries in recent memory, and David Leitch’s follow-up to the original Wick (Atomic Blonde) is set to blow the roof off the Paramount Theater when it premieres at SXSW. Bruce Willis decided to take a break from starring in Steven Miller Redbox epics like Marauders in order to appear in Eli Roth’s upcoming Death Wish remake (which Carnahan penned the script for). While the shootouts are all too brief and sporadically placed, Hell or High Water saw the crime/action genre get a ton of respect in ‘16, going as far as to gain an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture (though I’m sure elitists will try and refute its genre standing or label it an “elevated” take. Blech). Hopefully Steve McQueen’s upcoming Gillian Flynn-penned crime thriller, Widows, can pull off the same type of magic while still fully embracing its own heist movie trappings. The form is being interpreted in so many different ways that’s it’s hard not to be completely enthused if you’ve been a lifelong fan.
Does this mean we outright reject Bad Boys for Life (should it still happen in the wake of Carnahan’s departure)? Absolutely not. In fact, this writer suggests that maybe the project get back-pocketed for a moment in time when the genre (and maybe even Bay himself) requires another revitalization. Whether or not this hypothetical comeback includes Will Smith and Martin Lawrence remains to be seen, as both have been rather reluctant to return over the many years of development (and if they balk, may I suggest John Boyega and Corey Hawkins for Bad Boys: The Next Generation?). In the meantime, we should all enjoy the gifts we’re getting on a regular basis, thanks mostly to the means through which movies are now distributed. We may not necessarily need Bad Boys for Life at this point, but it’s certainly welcome to reload, should the bullets in its gun not be blanks.
*Not to mention erratically delivering an amazing bit of propagandistic carnage in 13 Hours and his own Coen Bros impersonation with Pain & Gain.