Meet The ‘Bad Boys For Life’ Directors Who Resurrected The Franchise

As this is being typed, Bad Boys For Life, the third movie in the Bad Boys franchise, has the best Rotten Tomatoes score of the franchise … and it’s not even close. Michael Bay didn’t return as director — instead the ship was handed to Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah and, you know what, they pulled it off.

What’s interesting about talking to these two is that there’s no, “Aw, shucks,” attitude that two relatively unknown directors (at least in the United States) might have when given the keys to a Will Smith and Martin Lawrence movie. No, these two bring it. (At one point ahead, Fallah literally calls themselves the “Bad Boys of cinema”.) They know what they want and they apparently know how to get it. And, yes, they want one more Bad Boys movie. But that’s it. No more after that.

Ahead, they discuss the obvious comparisons this movie has to the recent Fast & Furious movies, which they sort of embrace. How they have an idea for one last epic Bad Boys movie. And they explain how they got that big cameo to happen (minor spoilers about that at the end of the interview).

I am not a huge fan of the first two Bad Boys movies, and I absolutely loved this one. Why did that happen?

Adil El Arbi: [Laughs] I don’t know! I think that we tried to do our best to pay homage to the other two movies. And maybe one of the biggest differences between this Bad Boys and the two other ones is that this is really an homage to the action-comedy buddy cop movies of the ’90s — the movies that Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony Scott, and Michael Bedroso did. Like the Die Hards, Lethal Weapon, all these kinds of movies. Whereas Bad Boys was really a product of their times.

Well I’ll expand. The first one is fine, but they spend a large portion of the movie pretending to be each other. The second one, well, there’s a lot of stuff in there that, understandably, wouldn’t fly today.

Adil El Arbi: We loved those two characters in the previous movies. And it was important to develop more of that relationship between those two characters. And it’s a big action movie now, but we didn’t have the budget of a Marvel movie or a Fast & Furious or even a Mission: Impossible – Fallout or anything. So our assets were those two characters that we really wanted to develop with more emotion, with more depth, and also they became older. So it was all about the characters.

And I know you’re going to get this a lot, but there’s a Fast & Furious vibe here.

Adil El Arbi: The comparison with Fast & Furious is actually very logical because you could say that if you look at Bad Boys 2, there was never really a movie like that before. Bad Boys 2 is also very different from the first one. And after that, Fast & Furious is a kind of homage to the Bad Boys 2 movie specifically. So the fact that you have that same vibe and atmosphere, it’s logical because it makes it full circle. You have that team of family. You also have, for the first time in the second movie, those big extravagant car chase scenes. So, there you see really the clear connection, I would say.

The characters themselves have been great. But here you do put them in situations we haven’t seen before and there’s more emotion this time around…

Bilall Fallah: For us it was important that the movie is really about friendship, that human connection. Everybody seeks for that person that’s your ride or die, who’s going to be there until the end. And so, for us, the friendship was the central scene of the movie. And we connect so much with Mike and Marcus. It’s like me and Adil. We have that friendship, too, and so we connected a lot to the core of the story. You could say that we wanted to be the Bad Boys of cinema and it’s all about that.

At the beginning of the movie, Mike Lowrey has a brush with death that changes his character. It’s pretty interesting. It’s a movie about Will Smith’s character struggling with his own mortality. We haven’t seen that before.

Adil El Arbi: He hangs on to that character of Mike Lowrey and that image. The image that he was young. He was cool. He was like a model and there was a real bad boy. And that’s what I like. In life, you created that image that is larger than you yourself as a person. Marcus says to him that it’s all basically bullshit. He needs to either grow or die. That’s it. If he doesn’t change, it’s going to be the end. And that’s how life is, you know. We wanted to show the weakness that you have as a person. To the credit to Will and Martin, they went full-on, we going to show our weaknesses this time.

I don’t think I could describe the plot of this movie without sounding like a crazy person. They fight a literal witch, but the witch has a son. And Mike and the son have a past. There’s a lot going on here.

Adil El Arbi: I have to say, when we read it, we were… Obviously, there was some stuff that was out there. But we were surprised by the fact that there were actually surprises in the script and there were twists and there were things that we didn’t expect. And it was all funny. But at the same time, it’s got to be a little bit more grounded than a Fast & Furious or a superhero movie.

I would not use the word “grounded” to describe this movie.

Adil El Arbi: [Laughs] No, no, no, I get it. Exactly. After the third act, we have to go all the way and we really go full-on. And to the credit of the producers and Will and Martin, they restrained us a little bit. By the third act, the whole movie was sort of… it started to be less and less grounded as we continued. And then we said, come on man, this is the fucking sequel to Michael Bay movie! We need some Bay-hem! And they tried to restrain us a little bit on the Bay-hem level.

So do you see this progressing like the Fast & Furious movies? This one ends with a coda for a clear path forward for another movie.

Adil El Arbi: Well, for us personally, I mean, if God’s willing, if the movie does well and people like it, we would love to do a fourth movie because we feel that in that new direction there’s still one more story to tell I think. But, us personally, I don’t feel like you have to make eight or nine of these movies. I think that after this, you can do one more maybe really, one last time. But we would keep it on that, just one last epic story and that’s it as far as we are concerned as filmmakers.

And when Bad Boys Eight comes out how will you backtrack that statement?

Adil El Arbi: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. We’ll see! We’ll see. We’ll see. We hope that we can get to do other movies and not only Bad Boys movies, hopefully.
That coda at the end that sets up another movie, did you always want that in there?

Adil El Arbi: Well, the thing is that this particular thing at the end, it’s been discussed and we tried both in and out the movie the whole time. It was the last fucking second.

Bilall Fallah: It was the last second. We didn’t know! We didn’t know what to do, whether to do it or not. And basically in the test screenings when we didn’t have that, even though it might be a setup, it’s also kind of a closure and it was because of the closure aspect that the audience has felt we need something more. So that’s why we had to do that. But we went back and forth a lot on that one.

Adil El Arbi: Yeah and also if it gives a chance to make a Bad Boys Four, well yeah, let’s do it then.

Bilall Fallah: If we do our Bad Boys Four, we will not do something like that at the end.

[If you haven’t seen Bad Boys For Life, there’s a minor spoiler in the next exchange.]

So how did you get Michael Bay to come back for a cameo as an actor?

Adil El Arbi: We pushed for it because, for instance, it’s really important, it’s like having his blessing on the movie. And this is one of our favorite shots in the movie because it’s a Michael Bay shot with Michael Bay who turns around. And he basically directed his own shot, but for us.

Bilall Fallah: And he didn’t have to say anything. He knew where the camera was. That it was going 360 degrees around.

Adil El Arbi: And you have a Michael Bay shot.

Bilall Fallah: So, for us, that’s really super cool.

Adil El Arbi: The only thing was, the day we were shooting with him, he said to us, “Don’t fuck up my baby.”

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