‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ is not just a rollicking action-comedy, it’s Will Smith’s one shot at career redemption after the Oscars slap

The boys are back: Will Smith (left) and Martin Lawrence in ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’.

BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE ***1/2 (115 minutes) MA
In a normal world the advent of Bad Boys: Ride or Die, the fourth in the hugely popular buddy cop action-comedy film series that began in 1995, would arrive with the usual fanfare and the hope that it would at least be as entertaining, funny, raucous and explosive as 2020’s Bad Boys For Life.

And it is.

What a crowd-pleasing piece of joke-driven mayhem, dutifully following all the dictates of the Bad Boys formula, only here with even more emphasis on family togetherness and innovative camera techniques to cover all the gunplay and things blowing up.

But, as we all know, it’s not a normal world. Bad Boys IV comes with the added novelty value of being the first film to star Will Smith since he smacked Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars ceremony.

We’ve all watched as Smith’s fortunes tumbled in consequence. Movie deals were cancelled, his popularity plummeted, he was turned into a punchline, a meme, a universal target of derision.

Not even the speed of light could match how quickly Will Smith went from being cool to being uncool; decades of hard work building up an affable persona with four-quadrant appeal vanished before our eyes in a fraction of a nanosecond.

Even donations to his foundation crashed.

Doubts about Smith’s commercial viability swirled over his head. Netflix was all set to make a crime thriller, Fast and Loose, but hit pause to see whether the nightmare would blow over or settle in.

In a significant show of faith in Will Smith and his post-slap drawing power, it was Sony that stepped up and give the greenlight to another Bad Boys film, knowing full well that Martin Lawrence’s co-star was now a potential liability.

Yet all this baggage vaporizes in the opening minutes of Bad Boys IV as Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) engage in their patented badinage while they tear down the streets of Miami on their way to Mike’s wedding.

Ahh. It feels just like old times, as if nothing happened.

As an action-comedy the film certainly has all gusto, firepower, chases and explosions of Bad Boys For Life, which took $US630m in a pandemic-affected market.

Not only won’t fans complain, they’ll positively revel in all the nifty camerawork, featuring shifting POV, oners and swirling tracking shots as the good guys blast it out with the bad guys. Great stuff.

Almost as important, and just as in BBIII, there’s a strong story with a heightened emphasis on family that involves the adult children of the main characters. Smart move.

They even have a son-in-law cast as a serving marine, thus allowing the film to offer a few unobtrusive little patriotic salutes. Another smart move.

In a nutshell, Mike and Marcus (Smith, Lawrence) go on a noisy quest to clear the name of their beloved fallen colleague, Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who has been accused of corruption.

With great foresight, Howard has left some hidden videos for them explaining how he was working to expose corruption in the force.

It all hangs together nicely, with the final reel providing some crowd-rousing payoffs (if the throng at Tuesday night’s packed preview is any guide).

Though original Michael Bay (who pops up in a cameo) doesn’t direct, his signature style has again been used as a template by directors Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah who stick strictly to the formula, as they did with BBIII.

The one big value-added bonus here is how the film serves both as a terrific piece of multiplex entertainment and as Will Smith’s one shot at redemption – with his audience, his investors and, possibly, with himself.

For Smith, this is the movie that can save his bacon.

If it hits big – as it would in a normal world – it’ll signify that the audience has moved on and that the rift in Will Smith’s reputation has healed. Salvation through cinema.

If it doesn’t he’ll be forever blamed. Damnation.

Here’s hoping it’s the former.

Aptly, there’s a scene in the film where Smith is aiming a sniper’s rifle at a target, trying hard to find a clean shot as sweat drips down his face. What a perfect metaphor.

Yes, Smith has been bad and very, very stupid but, come on, do we really want to deprive the world of the next Bad Boys film, when Smith (55) and Lawrence (59) will be in their 60s?

Who wouldn’t want to see that?