In this one, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are reviving their roles as two Miami detectives expert at spreading as much carnage as the crooks they’re after. But this time, Bruckheimer’s old collaborator, Michael Bay, is not directing the traffic. He’s been so busy elsewhere in franchise land that he’s become too expensive for the budget. The job has gone to a new generation. Moroccan-born Belgian film-makers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have taken over. They’re also in charge of Beverly Hills Cop’s resurrection.
But only the most adoring Bay fans – and there are some – are likely to care. The demolition levels have been maintained, the Boys’ banter is as cheesy as ever and the Miami leisurewear hasn’t lost its neon glow.
What’s more, Smith’s Mike Lowery is as cocky and as buff as ever. Lawrence’s Mark Burnett, however, is not. His portliness, his short-sightedness and his new status as a grandfather present the script with its main gag. Always the worrywart, he now finds that it takes him more time and effort than it should to extract himself from the snug seats of Lowery’s Porsche and he’s decided to retire.
Lowery, too, is being pressed to make a few adjustments to his way of doing things. A team of youngsters with a baffling knowledge of the cyberworld are threatening to make his more robust policing methods redundant.
Bruckheimer’s team have rounded up a few of those who were in the earlier films. Theresa Randle and Bianca Bethune, as Burnett’s wife and daughter, are back to contend with the prospect of having him around the house doing nothing much. The Sopranos’ Joe Pantoliano has returned, barely containing his chronic state of hysteria as the pair’s long-suffering boss, Captain Howard. And Rita (Paola Nunez), a former girlfriend of Lowery’s, has been promoted to the rank of lieutenant, heading up the new hi-tech unit. This means that she’s landed the job of trying to control him.
And the number one villain, the widow of a Mexican drug lord, is also someone from Lowery’s past. Played by Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo, she’s just emerged from 20 years in jail and she and her lethal son, Armando (Jacob Scipio) are trying to kill him for putting her there. In the film’s first few minutes, they almost succeed, planting two bullets in his chest. You won’t be surprised to learn that he makes a miraculous recovery – one of many. Miraculous recoveries are an essential part of the movie’s modus operandi. People emerge with barely a bruise after being stabbed, kicked, rundown, blown up and pummelled with punches that sound like thunderclaps.
Understatement is a language that Adil & Billal, as they bill themselves, are yet to learn. Everything about the film is big – from its wheeling camera movements, pounding bass score, monumental close-ups and store of hardware and weaponry. Helicopters and rocket launchers are all part of the crime and crime-busting routine in this part of Miami. And when they’re not available, good and bad guys make do with using high-speed car and motorbike chases to rip up the streets and send bystanders flying.
There’s no denying the vitality that goes into Adil & Billal’s directing style. They also know how to mix it up with the comic touches and the sentimental bits that are all part of the series’ formula.
There’s a convincing sense of camaraderie between Smith and Lawrence, and it’s not a two-man show. The script gives the rest of the cast their due. The final scene sets up the next sequel and it doesn’t look as if the fans will have to wait another 17 years before it’s here.
Sandra Hall is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.