'Bad Boys: Ride or Die' movie review: The triumph of style over substance

The over-the-top style pulls you in every time the exposition shoves you further into the state of mind where you feel indifferent to the proceedings on screen.
A still from the film
A still from the film

KOCHI: Bad Boys is a franchise that you revisit not for its radical reinvention of the buddy cop formula. It is the friend of a friend you met that one time, whose name you forgot but you still remember him for bringing a certain energy to the day. Bad Boys: Ride or Die is bustling with that brand of infectious energy that fills up every frame.

The film opens in high gear, as we are re-introduced to our favourite duo through a quirky store robbery scene. They handle a tense situation with signature style and humour. Even though disconnected from the rest of the film, the intro scene, which solely exists as a character introduction, is nevertheless charming. This tendency to cook up a vibe and elevate the mood at the cost of storytelling pervades the entire film and that is exactly the nonchalance of this franchise that we know and love.

The first thing the film gets right is the bromance between Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence). You feel the brotherly bond between the two without it slapping your face or soaking you with melodrama. The film begins with Mike’s wedding where Marcus gets a heart attack. With a life-changing, post-attack clarity, Marcus decides to carpe diem, leading to a hilarious string of scenes where he declares he cannot die, walks into oncoming traffic, and tries to pet a giant hungry alligator. Marcus’ character arc starts off both funny and interesting, and the film fails to leverage much of its ingrained potential.

The interesting trajectories the screenplay could have taken off Marcus’ evolution are instead supplanted with a painfully weak central conflict and an insipid revenge subplot. The primary antagonist leaves a lesser imprint than droplets of water on a hot pan. We forget about him, his objectives, his motivations, and his plans the moment he steps off the frame. This does not mean that his existence is justified when he steps into the frame as well. However, the faint oppressive tension that our protagonists feel throughout the film, is enough to engage us.

Will Smith, who usually explodes with charisma and energy on screen, seems to be trudging through every scene while Martin Lawrence does all the heavy lifting. The film provides a singularly spectacular reason why you need to watch it despite the flaws: The childish passion of its visual language. Perhaps no one else in the film has more fun than the directors and cinematographer. With the smooth transition from drone shots to chest-mounted cameras, and POV shots that jump along with the gun as it flies from Mike to Marcus, the visuals have the playful inventiveness of a kid who got every toy they wanted for their birthday.

The over-the-top style pulls you in every time the exposition shoves you further into the state of mind where you feel indifferent to the proceedings on screen. The scene where the camera rig swivels like a snake around the transparent exterior of an elevator during a tense hand-to-hand gunfight is one of many visual peaks. The escape from a soon-to-crash helicopter is another instance where you catch yourself drowning all your criticisms in child-like glee.

The film goes all in on the big ending fight in an abandoned alligator park, where almost every new cinematic technique is employed, perfectly stitched together, to give you a roller coaster-like experience. Bad Boys: Ride or Die hooks you in with a wholesome bromance, almost half-heartedly wades through a weak central conflict, and still manages to win through its sheer tenacity to have fun with its wacky energy, inventive visuals, and unapologetic style.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die makes a compelling case for the fact that sometimes, maybe, style over substance is not a bad thing after all, especially when the effort is charmingly earnest and the passion in the making leaps off the frames and you can feel the energy.

Film: Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Directors: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah

Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Rhea Seehorn, Vanessa Hudgens

Rating: 3/5 stars

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