Review: Bad Boys: Ride or Die Reunites Will Smith, Martin Lawrence and More in a Messy Crime Actioner No One Asked For

Some movies just make you a little more cynical about the reasons people make them in the first place, and anyone who doesn’t recognize Bad Boys: Ride or Die for what it is—a publicity tool to get Will Smith back in the public’s good graces after his infamous 2022 Oscars moment—is only fooling themselves and probably deserves a slap in the face as well. But I’m guessing a depressingly large number of people see exactly what the fourth Bad Boys movie is and simply don’t care. They're just jazzed that Smith’s Det. Mike Lowrey and Martin Lawrence’s Det. Marcus Burnett are back in action, protecting Miami from whatever the hell is going on in this amped-up, chaotic, unfunny, senseless, clueless action-comedy that somehow involves the Romanian mafia, our heroes being framed for all manner of crimes, and the guys needing to get serious for once because their families are being threatened. How ever will they make it all work and still look cool in the process?

Among the host of folks returning from Bad Boys For Life are directing team Adil & Bilali (Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah), who are trying to bounce back after having their Bat Girl movie permanently shelved. One can say a great number of critical things about this new movie (a great deal of which lands on the messy screenplay from Chris Bremner and Will Beall), but the filmmakers’ action staging can be impressive at times, even if it’s also overblown, over-the-top, and relies far too much on digital effects rather than practical stunt work. That being said, the directors seem incapable of pulling together a genuine, emotionally driven moment, which is a problem because so much of what passes for story in Ride or Die is meant to be personal, since it involves families and much-loved friends. Even the film’s open wedding sequence between Mike and Christine (Melanie Liburd, not the same actor who has played this character before) feels manufactured, meant to resemble personal growth in Mike rather than anything in his actual behavior or choices reflecting such maturity.

I’ll be honest, I had a difficult time looking at Martin Lawrence in this movie. Marcus has a near-death experience early in the film, and it changes him but in all the wrong ways. He has a vision and comes out of it believing that now is not his time to die, so he walks into most dangerous situations in the movie feeling like he’s invincible. But he also talks nonsense most of the time, like he’s been transformed into some kind of life coach, filled with advice (mostly for his partner) about how to live his life and overcome unexpected panic attacks, which I think have been brought on by having something to live for in his new wife. But Lawrence is so unhinged throughout the film that it made me wonder if part of his brain got fried when he almost died. The jokes from both Smith and Lawrence are so profoundly terrible, I had to honestly assess whether the filmmakers were going for a more serious, edgy work this time around. But then DJ Khaled shows up, and I knew that couldn’t possibly be the case.

I’m not even going to attempt to explain the crime plot of Ride or Die, but it is used as an excuse to do all sorts of things that the filmmakers probably think audiences want, such as bring back returning characters Kelly (a weapons expert played by Vanessa Hudgens) and Dorn (a tech guru played by Alexander Ludwig). We even get a dead character in Mike and Marcus’ late captain, Conrad Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who leaves them messages from beyond the grave in case he dies and is framed for all sorts of unspeakable crimes. We meet the captain’s grown daughter, a U.S. Marshal named Judy (Rhea Seehorn, who I’m always happy to see, but not here) and her teen daughter Callie (Quinn Hemphill, who naturally needs saving at some point). Another familiar face comes in the form of Mike’s ex-girlfriend/now-captain Rita (Paola Nuñez), whose DA boyfriend Lockwood (Ioan Gruffudd) is trouble from the minute we meet him.

Shall we pile on more characters? Why the hell not! The villain in this piece is a former military chucklehead named McGrath (Eric Dane), who seems to have the inside knowledge and wherewithal to frame anyone for his wrongdoings pretty convincingly, and the only person who can identify him just happens to be Mike's drug dealer son Armando (Jacob Scipio), currently in a high-security prison from which Mike must find a way to break him out. The contentious nature of their relationship is set up to be the emotional focal point of the story, but everyone involved gets so lost in trying to out badass each other, we never get a genuine moment of catharsis. Of course I realize that a Bad Boys movie isn’t the place for a penetrating family drama with a grown son dealing with abandonment issues, but that doesn’t stop the filmmakers from pretending it might be.

The only other major character I haven’t mentioned is Tabitha (Tiffany Haddish), a strip-club regular who Mike and Marcus meet with to get guns and other necessities for going on the run. The sequence with her has no purpose other than to get Haddish on screen saying bad words for five minutes and make sure the film truly earns its R rating. The films borrows bits and pieces from other, better movies like The Fugitive and John Wick, but to compare those titles with this movie feels so very wrong. The Bad Boys seem to exist in a world where, even though they are being sought after by criminals and the police, they operate fairly out in the open with little concerns about getting caught or putting others in danger. Again, I realize this is nothing new for these characters, but it seems so much dumber the older they get.

Those who love the Bad Boys movies will likely feel right at home, firmly in their comfort zone, getting more of the same and exactly what they deserve. Maybe don’t let Will Smith’s crisis-management team dictate your movie selections this weekend, and hopefully the summer movie season can only get better from here.

The film opens in theaters on Thursday.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.