CS Interview: Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah on taking the reins for Bad Boys For Life
It’s been a long 17 years but Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are finally back for Bad Boys for Life, the third installment in the hit action franchise. To celebrate the release of the film, ComingSoon.net got the chance to talk to directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who discussed the long-awaited threequel and what it’s like taking over the directorial reins from Michael Bay.
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In Bad Boys for Life. the new installment centers on the Miami PD and its elite AMMO team’s attempt to take down Armando Armas, head of a drug cartel. Armando is a cold-blooded killer with a vicious, taunting nature. He is committed to the work of the cartel and is dispatched by his mother to kill Mike Lowery. Paola Nuñez will take on the role of Rita, the tough and funny criminal psychologist who is the newly appointed head of AMMO and Mike’s former girlfriend… the one who got away.
Along with stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos) also reprises his role as Captain Howard along with Theresa Randle (Spawn) returning as Theresa, Marcus’ wife. They are joined by new cast members Vanessa Hudgens (The Princess Switch), Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games) and Charles Melton (Riverdale), who play a modern, highly specialized police unit that collides with the old school Bad Boys (Smith and Lawrence) when a new threat emerges in Miami. Other newcomers include Jacob Scipio (Hunter Killer), who plays the ruthless drug cartel leader, Paola Nuñez (The Son), and DJ Khaled in an unspecified role.
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The first two Bad Boys films were directed by Michael Bay. Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah will take the reins on the latest entry from a script by Peter Craig (Bad Boys 2), Joe Carnahan (The A-Team) and Chris Bremmer. Jerry Bruckheimer will resume his producing role. Doug Belgrad will also produce, with Smith, Barry Waldman, Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, and James Lassiter serving as executive producers.
*WARNING: Some Spoilers Lie Ahead*
In addition to seeing the return of the leading duo, Pantoliano and Randle, the film also saw the return of previous series director Bay in a cameo form as a speaker at the wedding of Reggie and Megan Burnett, Marcus’ daughter, and we just had to ask the question on everyone’s mind: How many explosions and much slow-motion did he request for his scene?
“Well at the time he was working on the edit for 6 Underground and we met him the first time on set and he asked, ‘So how is the action?’” Fallah recalls with a laugh. “We were super nervous, like, ‘Yeah the action’s good!’ So it was super stripped down because we had so many stories and it’s Michael Bay, but we really wanted to do the Bay shot with Bay, that 360-degree turn, so people will study that shot. It was our biggest request in the movie.”
Though not necessarily adored by critics, Bay’s first two films in the series have found a special place in most audiences’ hearts over the two decades they’ve been out and many were left concerned over the prospect of Hollywood newcomers taking over the helm, including Arbi and Fallah themselves.
“There was a lot of pressure, a lot of stress,” Fallah said. “A big movie like, it was all of a sudden you’ve got to do a sequel to a Michael Bay franchise and we’ve never done that, so it was a lot of stress. But at the same time, we had Jerry Bruckheimer with us and we had Will and Martin and the whole team. The whole crew worked with Bay or did the Fast movies or Marvel and helped us out to put everything in a comfortable situation, even though we were stressing every day.”
“Yeah, sleepless night, man, for almost a year and a half,” Arbi says as the two begin to laugh.
Given that this marked the first Hollywood film for the duo, who are originally from Belgium, one of the biggest comforts they found in making the film was getting to work alongside leads Smith and Lawrence, who practically breathe Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett at this point and were very collaborative with the two.
“Will and Martin are just nice people, they put you at ease,” Fallah said. “They give you that opportunity to do our thing, so they were open for our suggestions and they were like our big brothers. Sometimes, they were testing, sometimes we would have creative discussions and then stress out and asking us ‘Why do you want to do this? What is your point? Is the scene good enough?’ You’re constantly working on the script, on every word, so there was something that we learned a lot from them, and we did have so much fun with them, we laughed our asses off on the set.”
Given its comedic genre setting, they did discuss that improvisation was something that happened frequently on set, but rather it would happen during rehearsals, where “they would improvise and right away a screenwriter would write all these improvised lines” and that after the first couple of takes following the original script, they would allow the cast to “play with it.” The most notable scene involving improv comes in the form of a visit to a coked-out accountant, in which Marcus tries and fails to talk to him, which the directors describe as their favorite of the improvised moments.
While there is plenty of comedy to be enjoyed for longtime fans of the franchise, as well as newcomers, the plot also sees the characters explore some deeply dramatic territory as their lives are put into danger in ways audiences haven’t seen before, forcing Mike and Marcus to face the prospect of more emotional maturity, which is what drew El Arbi and Fallah to the project.
“They wanted to acknowledge the fact that they became older and they wanted to go deeper into the character arcs, where Smith still wants to be a bad boys and Lawrence just wants to acknowledge that he’s older,” Fallah explains. “That’s constantly in a friendship where one wants to grow and evolve and the other one wants to stay the same, and that’s something that really spoke to us as filmmakers.”When you see the breakup scene, that is where you really feel the friendship has ended or you feel that emotionality that we didn’t really see of the bad boys in the previous movies,” El Arbi said. “That was something magical and that was the thing that gave this movie depth and twist.”
“It was cool to see Martin go outside of his performance, that we didn’t really see this Martin Lawrence,” Fallah added. “He showed that he could really match the seriousness of Will and they weren’t just cracking jokes. They didn’t request a lot of working and understood basically what the scene was about and that was rehearsed so much and that really is our favorite scene of the movie, and that’s the same for Will and Martin.”
With all of the moving parts on this big-budget project, one of the more interesting challenges the two found in going into filming was simply the location aspect of the story.
“Making Atlanta in the winter look like Miami in the summer was a challenge,” El Arbi said.
“They were different planets,” Fallah laughed. “For us it was also the gigantic machine that was the movie. We never worked with so many people and so the whole system of Hollywood making is just totally different.
“Yeah, we needed to learn to be a therapist, a lawyer and politicians at the same time, so that was pretty hard, to become that on the side of being filmmakers,” El Arbi concluded.
Luckily for the two, the hard work appears to have already paid off as critics and audiences alike have taken to giving the film the highest scores of the trilogy, currently sitting at a 74% approval rating from 144 critics on review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes in comparison to its predecessors’ scores of 42% and 23%, respectively. Fallah describes the respnose as “unbelievable,” with El Arbi saying they though they “were going to get massacred” by critics.
“We were super scared like, ‘Oh, it’s a Bad Boys movie, what the fuck?’ You think people are going to say you have to write the first two movies and you’re going to get hammered and massacred,” El Arbi said. “So you see all these videos that are mostly positive and even the negative are still fairly positive. I mean it’s our first Hollywood movie, the first time we can show us as directors. The reviews meant for us that we were going to be dead or alive and that people like it and the press likes it, we cannot believe it.”
Despite many trailers teasing “one last time” for the titular duo, there is room left open at the end of the film to see more outings from the fan-favorite crime solvers, and before today’s announcement that a fourth film would be in the works with Chris Bremner returning to pen the script, the two were very hopeful that they’d get the greenlight for a fourth installment.
“The audience is going to decide, that decision was the last thing to be put in,” El Arbi says of the sequel tease. “We were going back and forth, nobody knew what to do. They’re like, can you do it, not do it, so it was not until the last seconds and like ‘Oh, let’s do it again, so let’s put it in.’ We’ll see, if it’s the last one, this is the last one, we’d be good with it, but if there’s another one we are ready. We love the characters, we would love the see them again.”
Bad Boys for Life is in theaters now!