It took nearly two decades, but the Bad Boys are back. In Bad Boys For Life, franchise stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence returned as their iconic characters Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett to try and solve a new case. The older cops had a culture clash with a younger team of officers, but at the end of the day, all the classic Bad Boys elements were back: big explosions, great action, and hilarious banter between the partners.
The movie kicked off with a big opening weekend and earned solid reviews from critics, powering it to numerous box office records along the way. The film is now the highest-grossing film ever released in January and already has a sequel in development with Smith and Lawrence expected to return. With the stars back in the fold, the other main reason for the success of the new film came from the work of directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, a.k.a. Adil & Bilall.
The duo previously received critical acclaim for their short film Broeders, the Belgian crime film Black, and also directed episodes of the FX series Snowfall. Bad Boys 3 marked the biggest project of their careers, and while the budget was larger, the duo put their own stamp on the franchise, reigniting the series and honoring the legacy of the first two films along the way.
“It was a big challenge to make a sequel to two Michael Bay movies,” Fallah told Men’s Journal. “There was a certain expectation from the audience, so we had to give them a certain experience that would remind them of the first movies and at the same time come up with something fresh.”
“The new thing that we added was the sense of nostalgia to the action comedies of the 90’s,” El Arbi added. “When the [first] two Bad Boys came out they were products of their time, but our movie is an homage to the entire style. On the story level we wanted to go more emotional and even more dramatic in certain scenes than the previous ones.”
With the success of Bad Boys at the box office and with fans, Fallah and El Arbi likely will have plenty of other projects coming to them in the future, along with the possibility of returning to direct Bad Boys 4. One project that has continued to pop up around the duo over the past few years is Beverly Hills Cop 4—and those rumors are something both Fallah and El Arbi are fine with.
“There several things that are up in the air coming for us next,” Fallah says. “We would like to balance some projects in Europe and blockbusters in America, or even smaller more arthouse movies. But people are asking us about Beverly Hills Cop 4. It would be a dream project to work with the ultimate GOAT Eddie Murphy. So if they ask us, we are in!”
Fallah and El Arbi spoke with Men’s Journal about working with icons like Smith and Lawrence, adding a new chapter in the franchise, and how they created those amazing stunts.
Note: Some light spoilers for Bad Boys For Life are ahead.
Men’s Journal: What was it like for your guys working with this iconic duo of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence?
Adil El Arbi: It was like a dream come true. We grew up with these legends as kids and just to get to meet them was already amazing. But having the chance to direct these two legends was such an honor and a privilege. They became our big brothers and thanks to their experience, talent and chemistry we achieved the next level. First we were stressed, because we are two young nobodies from Belgium and they are big stars. But they had so much trust in us and put us right away at ease.
What was it like creating the action scenes for the movie? Did you guys have any favorites you got to work on?
Bilall Fallah: It was a lot of stress for us, because we never did that before, and you have to target an audience who is used to Michael Bay-style action. Luckily we were surrounded by very experienced members of the crew who had worked on his movies and lots of other action movies. In the end, it became really fun designing those gags, stunts and shots. We were inspired by ’90s action movies, especially the ones of Jerry Bruckheimer, but also Asian cinema like The Raid and the John Wick series, with of course Michael Bay references all along.
El Arbi: One of my favorite sequences was the motorcycle chase scene. To have Will and Martin in a sidecar made us feel like we were doing our version of the chase scene in the third Indiana Jones movie by Steven Spielberg, where you had Harrison Ford driving and Sean Connery in the sidecar. It was exciting to see the whole sequence play out with lots of practical effects, real explosions, real helicopter actions, real stunts. All at night which always gives a cool atmosphere.
You guys did a great job mixing the comedy with the action and dramatic moments throughout the movie. What was challenging about balancing all that?
El Arbi: It wasn’t easy. That was a process that took the most effort and time to get right. It started in the script process, during prep, shoot, and mostly during the editing. Our biggest asset for this was [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer who basically is a master in balancing these three things. When you look at Top Gun, at Beverly Hills Cop, The Pirates of the Caribbean, his knowhow is priceless. Eventually the movie tells you what it wants to be, and the test audiences are a big help in guiding what works better and what doesn’t. These helped us with the delicate balance.
Do you have a funny story or anecdote from working with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence on the movie?
Fallah: This one comes to mind: For some reason, Will didn’t want to wear the badge on a chain. He never told us why, but he didn’t want to wear it and always had a good excuse. We thought it was super cool and it was a callback of the previous movies. Eventually we had one last chance to have it in, the accountant scene, which was an intervention. He still didn’t want to wear it. For 45 minutes in front of the whole crew he told us it felt wrong, it was unnatural. Martin didn’t mind, but we wanted both guys to wear it. It was the first week of the shoot. We were stressing because you have one of the biggest stars in the world who is not agreeing with you on the first week. And we are fanboys. Eventually he said, “Okay, guys, I’ll do it, but only for you! Because you are the directors.” I think it was a test [laughs], but I guess we passed.
What was your preparation like leading up to the shoot? How do you guys first dig into a project when you’re working on a new film? What is your prep process like?
El Arbi: We analyze the script in detail and break it down in sequences. We listen to a lot of music that helps us with creating the mood of a sequence or the rhythm or tone. Once we know what the flow and tone is, we imagine what a trailer might look like, with all the key moments of the movie. When we meet the actors, we do rehearsals which are basically rewrites and we recreate the movie on the page and inject it with life.
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