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'Bad Boys: Ride or Die' and a Loving Tribute to the Old School MacGuffin

By Dustin Rowles | Film | June 10, 2024 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | June 10, 2024 |


I was going to see Bad Boys: Ride or Die whether I reviewed it or not because I decided after the upsetting box-office showing of Furiosa that I’d go to theaters at least once a week until Labor Day. I love going to the movies, and I will never take it for granted again.

Thankfully, the fourth Bad Boys is exactly the kind of movie audiences are happy to pay to see during the summer: It’s big, loud, and dumb, but not insulting dumb. It’s fun dumb. It’s a Bad Boys film. More importantly, it’s a Will Smith film, and many may remember that, before the MCU came along, Will Smith used to own the summer box office. Here, as in the third Bad Boys movie, he’s vintage Will Smith, a likable and funny action star. Tom Cruise, even at 61, may be the best action star in the business, but he doesn’t make the audience laugh. That’s what Smith brings.

Unfortunately, Ride or Die does swing too hard at times toward the action and too often lets Martin Lawrence handle the comedy, which is a mistake. His character, Marcus, gets a little more obnoxious in each installment, and here he’s nearly on the same level as Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon sequels. Marcus has a heart attack during the wedding of Will Smith’s Mike Lowery and nearly dies. However, while in a coma, he has a number of visions before the late Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), killed off in the last film, tells him that it’s “not his time yet.”

Marcus takes this to mean that he can’t die, so he spends the rest of the film in carefree, reckless mode. There’s a role reversal with Mike, who evolves from a loose cannon into a guy who has panic attacks now that he’s married to Christine (Melanie Liburd) and has an adult for whom he cares, Armando (Jacob Scipio), a major villain in the third film who begins this film in prison.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the late Captain Howard, who is framed by a bad guy named McGrath (Eric Dane), who kills ruthlessly and says things in menacing ways (his white hair also does a lot of work here). He figures out a way to backdate a lot of bank transactions to make it look like Howard was taking kickbacks from the cartel, shifting the responsibility for McGrath’s crimes onto a dead man who can’t defend himself.

That’s where Mike and Marcus come in, and because Armando has a lot of inside intel on the cartel, he’s sprung from prison to help out. Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), returnees from the third installment, are also part of the team, which is to say: Two more people who can wield machine guns. When McGrath implicates Mike and Marcus in Howard’s conspiracy, those two become fugitives along with Armando. The only way to clear their names — and that of their late Captain — is to locate the MacGuffin and turn it over to the cops.

And this is where I started to feel some warm nostalgia for the old-school MacGuffins from the cop movies of yore — Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, etc. The MacGuffin is always a file, hard disk, or thumb drive that can take down the entire cartel; it’s always hidden away, and its contents are almost irrelevant. It’s like the manila folder in Suits — it’s the physical embodiment of a hand wave, the disk drive equivalent of a Yada Yada Yada.

Those MacGuffins are a screenwriter’s best friend, permission to build the plot of an entire movie around … nothing. I understand that the Suitcase in Pulp Fiction or the Crystal Skull in Indiana Jones, etc., fulfill the same function, but there’s something to be said for simply building an entire movie around something as simple as a hard drive. If the characters retrieve that thumb drive and get it to the authorities before getting killed, they win the movie! That’s it.

That’s all there is to it, which allows the screenwriter to focus all the attention on the action sequences and the one-liners, not that it’s a heavy lift for the credited screenwriters Chris Bremner, Will Beall, and George Gallo. These Bad Boys films are made in the special effects editing room and in Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s comforting wisecracks and the buddy-cop chemistry they’ve maintained for the last 30 years. They still got it, and while Ride or Die is not going to win any awards and break any box-office records, it’s a fun time at the multiplex. I can only hope that Twisters, out later this summer, can as successfully repackage ’90s action in a 2020s outfit.