Will Smith, left, and Martin Lawrence are back in “Bad Boys for Life.” (Courtesy Sony Pictures)

‘Life’ doesn’t have to be ‘Miserable’

Three new movies do their best to live up to their disparate titles

Miami narcotics detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) may not be boys anymore, but the “bad” part still applies.

“Bad Boys for Life,” opening Friday, is the third movie in the series that began in 1995 and left off with “Bad Boys II” in 2003. Those movies are now old enough to drink and drive, respectively.

Now our boys are in their 50s. Marcus wants to retire, and he probably ought to, given that he appears to be in constant physical pain and can hardly move. Even his comic timing is sluggish, and his barrage of “s-bombs” consistently miss their targets.

But Mike wants to keep being a cop, at least until the wife (Kate del Castillo) of a drug lord he caught 25 years ago attempts to get her revenge.

Thankfully, a younger, computer-savvy squad of cops (Paola Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig and Charles Melton) is on hand to help. And, yes, there are many more chases and shootouts, and more bickering between Smith and Lawrence.

Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah take over for former series director Michael Bay, but keep to his style of blasted noise and rattling chaos, wherein the logic of a scene matters less than how big it is.

It can be maddening to try and follow the movie’s haywire spatial and chronological logic — such as how the heroes magically catch up to their escaping quarries after a long head-start. Nothing makes sense.

At least Smith puts his movie star skills to good work and manages to sell a few one-liners and heartfelt speeches. But he can’t always sell the idea he wants to be there, or cares about any of the other thinly-drawn characters.

As this long, 123-minute movie wraps up, the phrase “for life” begins to sound uneasily like a sentence.


Bad Boys for Life ★½

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig

Written by: Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan

Directed by: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah

Rated: R

Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

From left, Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti and Djebril Zonga star in “Les Miserables.” (Courtesy SRAB Films, Amazon Studios)

While “Bad Boys for Life” at least has no confusion over its title, “Les Misérables,” screening at the Embarcadero, may need some explaining.

It shares the same title as at least a dozen earlier films, but isn’t based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, nor on the 1980 musical based on the novel.

It’s a cop story set in the suburbs of Paris where Hugo reportedly wrote his tome.

Certainly it would have been easy, and better, for filmmaker Ladj Ly — making his feature debut — to select an original title.

His actual choice could be read as an audacious way of snatching the torch away from an older generation and passing it onto the new; the plot involves drones and stolen video footage.

Or it could be seen as a way of making a pulpy cop story seem more important, and deserving of an Oscar nomination.

It did receive one this week, for Best International Feature Film, but because of dumb rules around the category (each country submits only one film), another, perhaps better French feature, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” was not considered.

That aside, “Les Misérables” has perhaps two-thirds of a solid movie buried within its 102 minutes.

It concerns a new police transfer to the area, Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), who — “Training Day”-style — is assigned to ride with two not-quite-squeaky-clean Anti-Crime Squad officers, Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djebril Zonga), over the course of a day.

Ly depicts these city streets as a tapestry of clashing cultures, including a restaurant run by Muslims and a circus run by Romanians; these touches, along with the roiling racial tensions and rage, make the movie interesting, and, sadly, universal.

But Ly’s wobbly camerawork and self-serious tone pull the film away again, and it winds up in “not bad, pretty good” territory, if not quite Oscar-worthy.


Les Misérables ★★½

Starring: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga, Issa Perica

Written by: Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini, Alexis Manenti

Directed by: Ladj Ly

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

The late French filmmaker Agnès Varda reflects on her career in the fascinating documentary “Varda by Agnès” at the Roxie.

In other international feature releases, the documentary “Varda by Agnès” has exactly the right title. It’s the final official work by filmmaker Agnès Varda, who died in March 2019.

The movie is a straightforward and yet endlessly fascinating look at Varda’s own career.

She was a woman who had an open-hearted curiosity about the world, and a genuine honesty about how she might fit into it.

A pint-sized force of nature, formidable and endearing, she marched to work in her trademark bowl-shaped hairdo, unafraid to try just about anything artistic in an attempt to see and know people more clearly.

In the film, she simply sits on a stage, age 90, in front of a handful of students and shows clips of her work; her own readings of the things she has done show a desire to continue learning and exploring.

It’s both a perfect coda to her career and a perfect starting place for newcomers, and highly recommended.

See it at the Roxie, where it opened Jan. 10 and continues this week, and then go and check out her masterpieces, like “Cleo from 5 to 7,” “Vagabond,” “The Gleaners & I,” “The Beaches of Agnes” and “Faces Places.”


Varda by Agnès ★★★½

Starring: Agnès Varda, Sandrine Bonnaire

Written and directed by: Agnès Varda, Didier Rouget

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Movies and TV

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