Movies & TV

Bad Boys for Life Gets a Refresh With the Help of Alexander Ludwig

The electric pair of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence gets an assist from a host of young actors.
IMAGE Columbia Pictures
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Alexander Ludwig really, really wants you to watch Bad Boys For Life. Esquire Philippines had an opportunity to talk with the 27-year-old Vikings star, who plays young cop Dorn, about the film and he could barely conceal his excitement. He’d been a fan of the franchise literally “for life” since the first one came out in 1995. 

Photo by Columbia Pictures.
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Alexander Ludwig joins the Bad Boys club.

“I’m so excited to be working on this, the biggest franchise,” Ludwig says, momentarily forgetting superheroes and jedis. The actor is seeing the premiere with his mom and he giddily talks about how excited she is to see his first big action movie. 

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The original Bad Boys came out in 1995, and it was the film that put Michael Bay on the map. There had never before been—or since—a director so in love with explosions that it practically became his directorial trademark. Coupled with his signature 360-degree shot, where the characters rise from below the frame, Bad Boys established a cinematic look that, for better or worse, has helped define action films for the past two decades. 

Ludwig was a toddler when Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reinvigorated the buddy cop genre, so it is refreshing that Bad Boys for Life addresses the elephant in the room head on: Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett are getting old.

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Bad Boys for Life, unlike its predecessors, isn’t directed by Bay but rather the Belgian one-two punch of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who make sure to emulate Bay as closely as possible. Naturally, the 360-degree tracking shot is there, as well as no shortage of explosions. The film opens explosively with a high-speed car chase through the streets of Miami, with Mike behind the wheel of his Porsche. The bad boys aren’t chasing down criminals but rather trying to get to the hospital in time for the birth of Marcus’ grandson. Didn’t we say Mike and Marcus are getting old?

If this was the opening sequence in 1995, that baby could very well have been Dorn, who’s now part of AMMO, which stands for Advance Miami Metro Operations (the acronym sounds like it came from a Saturday morning cartoon). 

Ludwig looked forward to working with Smith, who’s “the nicest, most down-to-earth guy,” and he was genuinely pleased to work with Lawrence, who hasn’t been very visible on the big screen in recent years. Ludwig was so amused with the rapport between the two that he laughingly remarked, “I want my future wife and I to look at each other the way Will and Martin look at each other.”

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Photo by Columbia Pictures.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence remain funny.

It’s a look that comes from having formed a bond on the set of the first Bad Boys an entire generation ago. That’s the clever thing about Bad Boys for Life. It grapples with the reality that this franchise might be on its last legs because, even if the 51-year-old Smith is nearly Tom Cruise-like in his agelessness and physical fitness, 54-year-old Lawrence looks more like your average tito who can’t run 10 meters without getting gassed. In fact, this happens early in the film and Marcus comes face to face with not just his mortality, but his dear friend Mike’s. The bad boys are getting old, he thinks, and it’s probably time to be good men instead.

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It’s a mature take for a typically mindless action movie. But while it’s certainly a wake-up call when you become a granddad, the curious thing is why didn’t Marcus come to this realization when he became a father? If Sergeant Terry Jeffords of Brooklyn Nine Nine can have a crisis about putting his life on the line while being a father, why couldn’t have Marcus Burnett? Is the Bad Boys mentality so shallow and self-absorbed that it wasn’t such a consideration back then? 

Seeing as how Mike is still strutting in his fancy suits and fast cars, making fun of Marcus for using his wife’s ride, it would seem that way. This is the part of Bad Boys that didn’t age well. Mike is so caught up with his bad boy image that he can’t come to grips with Marcus considering retirement. Ride together, die together. 

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Photo by Columbia Pictures.

Young talents try to keep with Smith and Lawrence.

Because the two leads are getting on in age, it seemed like the natural step to bring in some new blood, namely Ludwig and co-stars Charles Melton and Vanessa Hudgens, who all comprise AMMO with their team leader Paola Nuñez. Nuñez plays Lieutenant Rita, with whom Mike Lowrey shares a will-they-or-won’t-they vibe. Ludwig is all praises for his co-stars, hoping that the Bad Boys franchise takes off like Fast and the Furious. “That’s the plan, but we’ll see,” he says before seeing the final cut of the film. 

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What Ludwig probably saw is what everyone will see: that the new members are criminally underutilized to the point that it wouldn’t have made a difference if you removed all the sequences with AMMO. It’s a shame because the new characters actually had a spark of potential, Dorn in particular, because he plays against type by being a musclebound goliath who’s also a computer whiz. 

“It’s a running gag in the film,” he says, “because I play someone who doesn’t look like your typical hacker. In one scene, [Mike] says, ‘why is this guy in here (the surveillance van) when he should be out there?'”

“I don’t want to spoil anything but Dorn gets his moment, you’ll just have to wait and see,” he says. Indeed Ludwig does get his turn to shine but it’s very brief and, among the three young bloods, Dorn is the most likable, pretty much like the gregariously friendly Canadian Ludwig himself. Melton’s Rafe struts with an unearned arrogance that makes him annoying while Hudgens’ Kelly is bland and forgettable. It almost feels like the filmmakers wanted to make a different movie with the three but couldn’t shift the focus from the electric pair of Smith and Lawrence. 

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At the end of the day, Bad Boys is Smith and Lawrence, and any attempt to grow this franchise in a new direction will find it difficult to move away from them, especially when they’re still so funny and good together. The kids of AMMO never manage to have that kind of chemistry because they feel like an afterthought. 

It also doesn’t help that they’re unable to solve a string of high-profile murders with all their fancy high tech equipment and only make headway into the case with Mike Lowrey’s shoot first, ask questions later approach. 

Photo by Columbia Pictures.
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The bad boys are up against a memorable villain.

On the other hand, the reason why they probably couldn’t catch the villain is because, for once, Bad Boys actually has a really good, deadly, and memorable one. Jacob Scipio plays Armando Armas, who’s an athletic, one-man killing machine who gives the Bad Boys more than they can handle. Coupled with the machinations of his mother Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), Armando makes life hell for Lowrey and, when the two meet, it’s reminiscent of Smith’s recent spectacular failure Gemini Man, but with better results. 

There’s also a story twist from left field that serves as some sort of origin story for Mike Lowrey that nobody asked for but given that it’s almost mandatory to check your brain at the door with a Bad Boys film, you just go with it.

Ludwig had high hopes for the future of the franchise and maybe he’s right. Smith and Lawrence don’t miss a beat and the jokes are funnier with age catching up with both of them, with Mike Lowrey finally forced to mature thanks to some of life’s curveballs. It isn’t Dorn’s time, at least not yet. But maybe, just maybe, when the inevitable sequel rolls around, this young good boy will finally get to be a real bad boy.

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Bad Boys for Life is now showing.

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Hugo Zacarias Yonzon IV
Zach Yonzon is a cake artist and co-owner of Bunny Baker
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