Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Are Back to Save Miami (And Smith’s Career?) Again


Poster for BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE (2024)

Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett have survived gunshots, explosions, and drug cartel conspiracies, but can they ride or die through the monotony of family drama? 

After playing the field since we met him in 1995’s Bad Boys, Mike (Will Smith) is finally settling down with Christine (Melanie Liburd, a new face who explains their entire relationship in her vows). Marcus (Martin Lawrence) is his best friend and best man, but after recovering from a heart attack, he also has the best outlook on life he’s ever had. With the pair newly married and newly out of the hospital, they think their biggest challenges will be a new work-life balance and a new junk food-free diet. But when accusations of corruption surface against their late captain (Joe Pantoliano), they remember their partnership means not just riding together through the mundane—it means being willing to die together to uncover the truth. 

Bad Boys: Ride or Die is functioning on three levels…

Martin Lawrence stars in Columbia Pictures BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE.  Photo by: Frank Masi

1. It reminds us just how fun buddy cop comedies can be.

Buddy cop movies (both comedy and comedy-adjacent) were a dime-a-dozen in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Given that the genre’s only seen a handful of hits (21 and 22 Jump Street, The Heat) and critical favorites (The Nice Guys, BlacKkKlansman) in the last 15 years, Ride or Die feels like a relic from another era, one in which Smith could star in two buddy cop comedy franchise at the same time (see also: Men in Black). Though some IP-based franchises have picked up the genre’s conventions, Ride or Die is betting on filling this gap in the market, which seems like a well-educated gamble. Yes, the 2020 of it all put an asterisk on Bad Boys for Life’s box office crown that year, but it still made over $200 million domestically with only two real months of release.

Ride or Die may have smaller explosions than when Michael Bay was running the joint, but it’s both the shortest and the funniest of the series. Lawrence is cooking, knocking his line delivery out of the park again and again. (This is a movie in which he wears a “Purebred White Boy” sweatshirt for a significant amount of the runtime.) You’d expect that the fourth entry of a 30-year franchise would be slowing down, but this has the energy level of Lethal Weapon‘s heyday.

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence get ready for action in BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE (2024)

2. It’s a soft reboot of the franchise. 

And not just because it’s leaning more into comedy. Ride or Die is one of the first big-budget movies about police characters since the death of George Floyd. The national conversation about the relationship between police and civilians started much earlier than that, but Ride or Die feels more conscious of it than ever. The Bad Boys have always been focused on taking down international drug lords (not traffic stops), but this features the least amount of “traditional” policing of the series. Now the plot is literally about holding law enforcement police accountable for their choices, and most of the action is focused in their own homes or outside of Miami altogether. Bay makes a cameo again like he did in For Life, but the style of collateral damage Lowrey and Burnett caused in Bad Boys and Bad Boys II would feel different if released now. (To be clear, there’s still room for that kind of chaos—I’m ride-or-die for Bay’s recent symphony of mayhem Ambulance.) The action is still over-the-top, but it’s less gritty with fewer possible casualties.

In the hands of returning directors Adil & Bilall, Lowrey and Burnett are beginning to feel more and more like Toretto and O’Conner with a dash of Hunt and Hunt. Smith and Lawrence are still the center, but now they are now surrounded by a family of colleagues and ex-convicts with special skills, including Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Paola Núñez, and Jacob Scipio all returning from the previous film. I could almost hear Vin Diesel whisper “family” as the crew went into hiding together, and were those Tom Cruise’s paternal instincts kicking in as they planned a rescue inside an abandoned theme park? Bad Boys is no longer a dynamic duo but an ensemble piece. (This is with mixed success—the inclusion of newcomers Liburd, Rhea Seehorn, and Quinn Hemphill pushes the character count too high to do justice to everyone.) Aside from a memorable Tiffany Haddish cameo, the crassness of first two films is absent as well. Gone are the days of Lawrence ogling a dead woman in a morgue—he’s a grandpa now, and the tone matches.

Will Smith stars in Columbia Pictures BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE.  Photo by: Frank Masi

3. It’s testing the waters for Will Smith’s future.

Thinking about Smith this week has got me thinking of the adage, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” 

Post-Oscars slap, he has been…quiet. A full-blown apology for his behavior came four months after the ceremony, and his drama Emancipation drew little attention for the paid streaming service that anecdotally seems to have the smallest reach. You know who hasn’t been quiet? Jada Pinkett-Smith with the release of her tell-all, Chris Rock with his stand-up special, and anyone you need to make small talk with from your barista to your hairdresser. I’ve wondered if Smith has been too quiet—perhaps if he’d apologized sooner and gotten back to work, he’d wouldn’t have had to wait more than two years to add something new to the public consciousness.

We’ll never know what might have been, but even with the delay in his public image rehab, Ride or Die is about the best scenario he could hope for. The other quote I’ve been thinking of is an exchange with Vivica A. Fox in Independence Day: “You are not as charming as you think, sir.” / “Yes, I am.” In the year of our Lord 2024, Smith is still as charming as ever, and Bad Boys knows exactly how to deploy it. He may be the straight man to Lawrence, but he still gets plenty of laughs, and he’s just as believable of an action star as when he was shouting, “Welcome to Earth!” 

And is Ride or Die about the slap itself? This version of Lowrey leans more into his public persona than ever. Marrying Lowrey off—and introducing his son in the previous film—gives him new vulnerability and motivation. Now his life is all about protecting his family, and with it, he has developed panic attacks because this responsibility. Breaking protocol to protect his wife? Struggling with crippling mental health issues? Sure, it’s possible that I’m reading too much into those plot points, but you know what’s not a coincidence? Lawrence slapping him across the face over and over for comic relief. Ride or Die is a continuation of his apology tour, and perhaps its completion by giving the audience the eye-for-an-eye many felt he deserved two years ago.