Director: Adil & Bilall Screenwriter: Chris Bremner, Will Beall Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Paola Núñez, Eric Dane, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhea Seehorn, Jacob Scipio, Melanie Liburd, Tasha Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Joe Pantoliano Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing Running Time: 115 min. MPAA: R

There’s a certain groove that Ride or Die finds to make it a rather surprising Bad Boys entry. It doesn’t feel as stumbling with its comedy nor as chaotic with it action. The manic nature is still there, as are the intense shoot outs and offbeat blustering of the buddy cops. There’s a moment where the film seems to get lost in thought of some greater existential contemplation of life and death, but is quickly grounded with a firm slap and shout about what matters most.

That’s the strength of this fourth Bad Boys movie in how it focuses on what matters most. Buddy cop movies function at their best when chemistry between its lead is cooking. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence still have the heat when they’re given the right meat to work with. From the opening segment where Marcus (Lawrence) sneaks in some snacks before a wedding while an impatient Mike (Smith) chides him amid a robbery, their back-and-forth works wonders. It’s the little moments in between their bigger life changes of Mike getting married and Marcus having a new outlook on life that are worth lingering on. There’s plenty of that in this film, where the camera takes the time to slow down and get a foreground zoom on a day-old hotdog just for the fun of it.

There’s just enough going on in the central plot to be interested while not being bogged down in intricacies (even for referencing the past two movies). An old buddy of Mike and Marcus has been accused of corruption after his death in the last film. Unwilling to accept this accusation, the duo track down cartels and corrupted officials to unravel the mystery. There are stakes worth fighting for and feuds to be resolved, as Mike’s estranged criminal son Armando (Jacob Scipio) is thrown into the mix for a redemption arc. There’s also a sufficiently sinister villain with the sneering nature of Eric Dane and an eccentric Tiffany Haddish who manages to steal her one scene. In addition to all the other surprising cameos, it’s worth noting the grit of Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Núñez, and Rhea Seehorn, adding some women into the mix of boys.

Directors Adil & Bilall have found a great footing with their second attempt at a Bad Boys movie. While their previous film felt like it was faltering in trying to find something more to explore with age and keeping explosive carnage comparatively smaller, there’s a greater balance in their direction here. The explosion feel grand, but not excessive and there’s a surprising amount of neon color that coats every scene with vivid clarity. There’s also some impressive camera work for the action scenes, especially the climactic shootout at a gator park with the camera swinging around between close-ups of Mike, Marcus and their guns. It all feels like more of a treat for the eyes than an Michael-Bay-style assault on the senses.

The Bad Boys have gotten a good movie with Ride or Die, stylish and fun enough for a solid summer diversion. Despite its meandering nature of exploring some deeper and petering out with swirling characters and themes, the action and charm is where it counts for a film like this. Smith and Lawrence are in top form here, aided by the creative forces of Adil & Bilall. They also feel more fully realized as opposed to the previous film where they were forced into the typical torch-passing mode of grumpy old guys spitting on the new generation. They do less of that in this film and actually manage to work well with their younger companions. Far from the stumbling of The Expendables, this sequel keeps the Bad Boys as such instead of turning them into Grumpy Grandpas.

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