Bad Boys: Ride or Die opens with a credit that calls it “A Don Simpson / Jerry Bruckheimer Production,” which is a particularly impressive feat since Don Simpson died in 1996, less than a year after the release of the original Bad Boys. The involvement of a ghostly producer sort of suits this sequel, though, which concerns itself with — of all things! — the possibility of higher planes of spiritual existence, along with numerous scenes where the heroes receive messages from beyond the grave from their long-dead boss.

These are not necessarily elements one expects from the third sequel to a Michael Bay action film about rough-and-tumble narcotics cops. And yet. The surprises work in Ride or Die’s favor, as they also did in 2020’s unexpectedly satisfying Bad Boys For LifeBoth it and Ride or Die were directed by the team of Adil & Bilall, who continue to do a very impressive job of maintaining the vibes of the old Bad Boys, and of drawing committed performances from the series’ long-running stars, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, who continue to treat these movies as more than an easy payday.

Will Smith (Finalized);Martin Lawrence (Finalized)

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The latest installment begins with the wedding of Smith’s Mike Lowery, who is finally ready to settle down after decades of bachelorhood. But Mike’s wedded bliss is very short-lived; his nuptials are rudely interrupted when his ride-or-die Miami PD partner Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) suffers a heart attack. When Marcus wakes up in the hospital after a surreal out-of-body experience, he brings back two things from the other side: A conviction that it’s not his time to die yet, which manifests itself in unusually brave and even reckless behavior because he now feels invincible, and a warning for Mike: “A storm is coming.”

That may not qualify as incontrovertible proof of an afterlife, but Marcus turns out to be right: A few scenes later, Mike and Marcus’ dead boss, Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), gets framed by a drug cartel for crimes he didn’t commit; not long after that, Mike and Marcus are forced to go on the run themselves after the bad guys make it look like they’re part of the same criminal conspiracy. The only person who can clear all their names is Mike’s illegitimate son Armando (Jacob Scipio), a drug dealer serving time in a federal prison for Captain Howard’s murder.

Martin Lawrence (Finalized)

Did you remember Will Smith’s character learned he had an illegitimate son with a drug cartel queen in Bad Boys For Life? And that Mike Lowery’s drug dealer son killed Joey Pants? I didn’t. (In my defense: Six weeks after I saw this movie a novel coronavirus sparked a global pandemic, so my mind was preoccupied with other matters at the time.) To be honest, watching Bad Boys: Ride or Die I often had a hard time remembering which characters were new and which I was supposed to recognize. Was Mike’s wife introduced in Bad Boys For Life? (She wasn’t.) Did Marcus get remarried at some point? (No, there’s just a new actress, Tasha Smith, playing the character previously portrayed by Theresa Randle.)

At times, the sheer number of characters and subplots in Ride or Die gets a little confusing. Paola Núñez plays the Bad Boys’ new boss, she, Vanessa Hudges, and Alexander Ludwig all had supporting roles in the last movie. Tiffany Haddish’s strip-club owner did not, despite the fact that her character alludes to a prior history with Mike. Even Marcus’ long-suffering son-in-law Reggie (Dennis Greene) gets his own (admittedly very crowd-pleasing) moment to shine.

In other words, Bad Boys: Ride or Die is way more invested in the world and mythology of the Bad Boys universe than I would have anticipated (or, frankly, needed). You may want to revisit (or at least glance at the Wikipedia plot synopsis) for Bad Boys For Life before you head to the theater this weekend. (If not, the script by Chris Bremner and Will Beall does an okay job of getting viewers back to speed.)

Martin Lawrence (Finalized); Will Smith (Finalized)

Honestly, though, very little of the rigamarole about the supporting cast matters. This is Bad Boys. What it comes down to is the action and the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence, which after 30 years (30 years! Of Bad Boys!!) is stronger than ever. As part of Marcus' spiritual awakening, he comes to believe that he and Mike are soulmates who have spent countless lifetimes together. While that’s mostly just an excuse for Lawrence to endlessly riff on their past lives, the weight of the years between these two men radiates off the screen. Ride or Die’s set-pieces are certainly fun (the finale at an abandoned Gatorland-esque theme park is especially wild) but it’s also entertaining to watch them cruising around Miami together, riffing about Skittles or donkeys or whatever nonsense is on their minds at any given moment.

Marcus' carefree attitude after his heart attack and his conviction that he cannot die made me think about how the Bad Boys series itself stands as proof that he might be on to something. (It also made me think about the Jeff Bridges movie Fearless, which I assume someone involved in Ride or Die was quite familiar with.) Bad Boys was written off for good after Bad Boys II, and yet here we are more than 20 years later, with two solid sequels in four years. Somehow, these guys really have become Bad Boys for life. And perhaps even beyond that.

Additional Thoughts:

-Despite my overall positive feelings about the last two Bad Boys movies, it remains an absolute travesty that this series wasted the title Bad Boys For Life on its third movie. This sequel should have been called Bad Boys 4 Life! Blowing that subtitle a movie too early was an act of franchise malpractice.

-If you are wondering whether this movie will address the infamous Oscar slap in any way ... well, in one scene Marcus repeatedly slaps Mike to get him to snap out of an emotional funk during a particularly tense standoff. Does that count?

RATING: 6/10

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Movies That Should Have Become Franchises But Didn’t

These movies were good enough to get sequels, or whole franchises. But it never happened for a variety of reasons.

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