What I am going to say may sound unbelievable. But I have gone over it several times in my mind. I have analysed, examined and researched. The verdict is clear. Bad Boys for Life, the third instalment of the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence starring Bad Boys franchise, is actually good.

All of a sudden, on the third outing, the franchise developed a soul. I had gone into the theatre expecting explosions, gratuitous swearing and male gazing. I came out deeply surprised. There was a story. Not a unique one by any sense of the word but a story nonetheless. Even more surprising, there was an attempt to develop the two leads into characters that, like the rest of us, are flawed.

The events of this film take place almost two decades after those of Bad Boys II. Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) are no longer young. They have aged gracefully - like any two movie stars would instead of police detectives on state salaries - but they have aged nonetheless.

Marcus is a new grandfather and plans to retire soon. Not Mike. He is still single and plans to continue to be Mike - one night stands, "muscle shirts and body counts". This enthusiasm is almost cut short when he gets shot outside a bar.

He survives the assassination attempt, but it is not clear why or who is trying to kill him. He has to enlist the help of a reluctant Marcus and a new division within the police department to capture his would-be assassin. As the duo goes deeper into the investigation, it becomes evident that there is much more to Mike’s history than a womanising, trigger-happy adrenaline junky.

In its third act, the film goes into soap-opera territory. A plot twist is used as a device to allow Mike to mature emotionally. It is admirable that it is an end to a means and not an end in itself. But I wonder if it was necessary to do it that way (if this sounds vague it is only an attempt not to spoil the ending).

There are more subtle, less clichéd ways for characters to grow and see the error of their ways. They do not have to be presented with soapy plot elements. The screenwriters might have come up with interesting character arcs, but I had a hard time swallowing their method of making a straight line arc.

Worse still was the dialogue. It seemed the screenwriters outsourced most of the lines in the movie to their teenage children. By the time the movie was over, I had forgotten what a good dialogue was. I had to watch a Quentin Tarantino move just to compensate.

Despite these glaring flaws, the third movie is still the Citizen Kane of the franchise. This is not saying much considering that the first two movies, as much as I loved them when I was young, were absolutely terrible.

Both were directed by Michael Bay, who has a cameo in this movie, who was then in the process of blunting his directorial skills. This is assuming he had skills to begin with.

He had still not made Transformers 2, but his immaturity, his loathing for original stories and well-developed characters, his worship of explosions and the military in tandem with the objectification of women were still clearly perceptible.

Bay saw both Mike and Marcus as cartoon characters. The latter is the comic relief, mostly making sex jokes, and the former is the womaniser. Lawrence was the early 2000s and late 1990s Kevin Hart, thus Marcus was developed to match those sensibilities. Smith was an up and coming action star that everyone loved. Mike was thus the perfect detective - ripped body, smooth-talking and a pretty face, no one was pretending he was an actual detective.

What the makers of this movie did was reinvigorate the characters. They are no longer caricatures of the public image of the famous actors that play them. They make mistakes, fail and do not look like movie stars when they do it.

Young Smith and Lawrence would not have agreed to play the characters this way. But it speaks to the emotional maturity of the actors themselves - especially Smith, whose mainstream appeal is well and alive - that they agreed to appear in a film that makes them looks so … ungraceful.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 25,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1030]

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