How many times in the past 17 years since “Bad Boys II” have you heard, “They really need to make a Bad Boys III?” You can’t help but wonder after the string of disappointments bearing Will Smith’s name (“Gemini Man,” “Bright,” “Collateral Beauty,” “Concussion,” “Focus”) if he’s simply reviving old franchises to stay active.

The original 1995 “Bad Boys” was a modest Michael Bay action movie that relied more on the script, acting and practicality than action movies did a decade later when the sequel landed with a thud.

Action films in the 1990s had a particular appeal; before “Fast & the Furious” redefined expectations, they were more simplistic. “Bad Boys for Life” is trying to exist as a modern-day action film with the mindset of flicks from another era.

This latest installment is just another desperate nostalgia reboot that’s mediocre at best. “Nothing sadder than old men revisiting the past,” is the most appropriate line from the script.

Miami Detective Mike Lowrey (Smith) has remained the same guy for 25 years, only now, as his partner Detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) points out, he is coloring that goatee. Burnett just became a grandfather and has decided to leave the wild life behind and settle into retirement.

Lowrey is still unmarried, but his past comes back with a vengeance. The two men now on opposite paths need each other more than ever to survive the most dangerous case of their 25-year partnership.

The two infamous cops team up with Miami’s latest special unit called AMMO with Lowrey’s former flame Rita (Paola Nuñez) leading the force. However, bullets won’t work against a bruja’s black magic that’s aimed at Lowrey’s past discretions.

“I’m living my best life,” Lowrey said. “I’m ready to turn up.” In which Burnett replies he needs to “turn that (expletive) off.” This sums up my basic attitude about Smith’s current career choices. The 51-years-old “Aladdin” star is in Tom Cruise territory, desperately trying to prove he is still the same action star he was in his late ‘20s.

The only difference is Smith and Lawrence lean into the comedy surrounding their age. The screenplay pulls and borrows aging action star jokes (James Bond, Indiana Jones); it literally copies the climax of “Silence of the Lambs” famous escape in the opening scene.

Later, a scene is borrowed from “Jurassic Park,” and by then, it is obvious the three screenwriters are beating us over the head with action movie references from the ’90s.

While Bay isn’t the director this time around, his cameo suggests he is still interested in the project with a fourth installment already in the works. Smith would find more respect, and meaningful success, if he used his talent and money to produce smaller films that might aid filmmakers of color struggling to find backing (i.e. Brad Pitt, Tyler Perry and Reese Witherspoon).

Smith could offer much more to the world of cinema than another discardable action movie where an egotistical 50-year-old is trying to prove he’s still able.

From the car sequences to gunfights and life-or-death situations, “Bad Boys for Life” can’t match something like “6 Underground.” Action movies in 2020 have to work on a different level. Nostalgia can only take you so far, and “Bad Boys” is a one-watch type of movie that spends too much time throwing back to the original that few even remember.

Final Thought: “Bad Boys for Life,” armed with endless rounds of action clichés and non-stop character stereotypes, relies heavily on explosive amounts of nostalgia that only fans who have seen the originals multiple times will understand.

Dustin Chase is a film critic and associate editor with Texas Art & Film, which is based in Galveston. Visit texasartfilm.com.

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