“Bad Boys for Life” ruled the box office this past weekend, likely bolstered by what seems like an interminable gestation period, lots of media hype and possibly nostalgia.
But if you’re not inclined to go out to see a movie, there are plenty of options for you to see at home, including two – “Judy” and “The Two Popes” – with some of the year’s best performances, and another, “Dolemite Is My Name”, that’s sure to bring at least a couple smiles to your face.
“Bad Boys for Life” (Rated C)
Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Jacob Scipio
Genre: Action/Crime Comedy
TCM – Turner Classic Movies – is my go-to TV network when I’m in the mood for not-recently produced entertainment – which is actually quite often.
While not everything they air there should or would be considered a classic, and many of the films are just simply old, or from a bygone era, even the not-so-good flicks are fascinating time capsules, exploring how folks once interacted and what was acceptable or appropriate (or not) “back in the day”.
For quite a few moments, “Bad Boys for Life” feels like a throwback to a long-ago era. While cinematic buddy comedies are almost as common today as the superhero action flick, rarely has one felt like it was plucked out of another decade like this latest Jerry Bruckheimer-produced explosion-fest.
The third film in the franchise that started with “Bad Boys” way back in 1995, and continued with “Bad Boys II” in 2003, is back 25 years after the original. Michael Bay (The “Transformers” series, “Armageddon”, “Pearl Harbor”) – who would find a way to fit at least one explosion into “Romeo and Juliet” if he were at the helm – directed both of those earlier editions. But Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah were calling the shots for “Bad Boys for Life”. (Reports suggest the pair is set to direct Eddie Murphy in a new installment of “Beverly Hills Cop” – speaking of bygone eras.)
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return as old-school cops Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett, respectively. They team up to take down the vicious leader of a Miami drug cartel. Newly created elite team AMMO of the Miami police department along with Mike and Marcus go up against the ruthless Armando Armas.
That “old school” feel comes on strong as the new film parades old and tiresome cop movie tropes: the Captain who daily chugs down Pepto Bismol by the gallons; our buddy cops’ reckless disregard for all property and sometimes life in the pursuit of their brand of justice, including unspeakable quantities of violence and highly questionable interrogation methods.
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! We get it! You’re tough guys! You don’t follow the rules!
However, “Bad Boys for Life” does have its charms. Unfortunately, they come at the expense of Lawrence’s character, which has practically been ruined, and is officially the butt of all imaginable old man jokes. He’s barely in the film, actually, and the whole picture might as well have been named “Bad Boy” – as the emphasis is primarily on Smith.
But Smith and Lawrence are a quarter of a century older, and the world has indeed changed. Scenes with the duo working with the technologically advanced and politically correct millennials of the AMMO team help bring out the best of both actors.
While a little too similar in some ways to Smith’s “Gemini Man” from last summer, the old cop versus new cop vibe, and less juvenile dialogue compared to the two previous installments in this franchise, mean “Bad Boys for Life” may be the best of this series.
Usually these sorts of things get worse. So much for nostalgia!
“Judy” (U.S.-rated PG-13)
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Jessie Buckley
Nearly 51 years after her death, Judy Garland remains a hot commodity. Her tragic life has been the subject of countless books, stage plays and movies on the big screen and television.
The latest is “Judy”, looking at the final few months of Garland’s life in 1969. It also looks back at a young “The Wizard of Oz”-era Judy, examining what might have led to the decline – on multiple levels – of one of Hollywood’s biggest-ever superstars.
In the film, we find the beloved actress and singer struggling 30 years after her first leading lady role in “The Wizard of Oz”. She arrives in London to perform sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub. While there, she reminisces with friends and fans and begins a whirlwind romance with musician Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be fifth husband.
Based on the Broadway play “End of the Rainbow”, “Judy” is well done – both amusing and disturbing. It paints a picture of a Hollywood and a world that we can only hope no longer exists. Stardom and life in general were exceptionally cruel and hard on Garland, who appeared to be at least 20 years older than the age of 49 when she died.
Oscar-winner Renée Zellweger brilliantly brings all of Garland’s pain and struggles to life in one of the most outstanding acting performances of 2019. She’s been winning every Best Actress award under the sun this year, including the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild. And she’s up for the Academy Award.
Watch “Judy” for even a few minutes (it opened in September in the U.S., had a limited run here at Island House in November, but is now available on some home streaming services) and when you hear Zellweger’s name called for the Oscar two weeks from Sunday, you’ll know why.
“The Two Popes” (U.S.-rated PG-13)
Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Juan Minujin
Genre: Biography Drama
For two more exceptional performances, you can also stream “The Two Popes”.
It too is based on a play, which was based on some actual events, but is probably mostly highly fictionalized.
Behind the Vatican walls, Pope Benedict and the future Pope Francis must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.
Due to its stage play roots, “The Two Popes” quite often feels like a televised play. Other times, it feels like a TV documentary. And it also feels like it loses its way during flashbacks to the young Francis/Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s early priesthood. But overall, it is an intriguing production, for even the non-faithful.
Its strengths lie in the frequently awkward and uncomfortable interactions between Benedict and Francis, two extremely different men with often opposing outlooks on life.
Jonathan Pryce as Francis and Anthony Hopkins as Benedict are truly masters of the craft. Both of these performances should be studied in acting classes. In any other year – without Joaquin Phoenix as Joker – Pryce’s performance would be all nearly everybody would be talking about.
“Dolemite Is My Name” (U.S.-rated R)
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
Genre: Biography Comedy
Like “The Two Popes”, “Dolemite Is My Name” is a Netflix production.
Eddie Murphy stars as performer Rudy Ray Moore, who in the 1970s develops an outrageous character named Dolemite, who becomes an underground sensation and star of a kung fu, anti-establishment film that could make or break Moore.
This comedy had been gaining momentum last year, with lots of buzz around the start of award season, especially when the Golden Globe nominations were announced. Since then, though, it’s practically fallen off a cliff.
Nevermind that though! “Dolemite Is My Name” is a very funny and enjoyable picture, that might be a just a tad too similar to 2017’s “The Disaster Artist” for true comfort.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email email@example.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.