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BAD BOYS FOR LIFE – Lorne Balfe

February 7, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Back in the spring of 1995, director Michael Bay and producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer brought the world Bad Boys, a buddy-cop action comedy starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, who at that point was still best known for his role in the TV sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and was making his ‘leading role’ debut. Lawrence and Smith played Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey, hotshot Miami detectives who leave a trail of bullets, bodies, and profane one-liners wherever they go. The film was a massive financial success at the time, and spawned a sequel in 2003, but no-one expected the boys to return for a third outing – and yet here we are, 25 years removed from the original, with Bad Boys For Life, directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. Lawrence and Smith return to the roles which made them famous; the plot revolves around Burnett, who wants to retire from police work, teaming up with Lowrey one final time as they investigate the murders of numerous people involved in an old drug cartel case.

The most famous part of the original movie’s soundtrack was the eponymous “Bad Boys” song by Jamaican reggae group Inner Circle, and which was well-known as the theme from the long-running TV series Cops. However, just as iconic was the score by composer Mark Mancina, who contributed one of the most muscular and memorable themes of the 1990s Media Ventures power anthem era. Mancina is no longer associated with the team, so the score for the latest entry is by the ever-busy Lorne Balfe. In my estimation, Balfe is currently enjoying the longest sustained period of excellence in his career to date; his score for the lavish TV miniseries His Dark Materials was outstanding and is worthy of special praise, and now Bad Boys For Life comes along and turns out to be an absolute blast of positive energy.

What I enjoy about Bad Boys for Life the most is that it’s pure, old fashioned fun. There’s so much to gripe about in the world today and, as both a film music fan and a critic, sometimes you just want to experience a score that makes you feel good. Bad Boys for Life is one of those scores. Balfe takes the meat and bones of Mark Mancina’s original theme and goes to town with it, giving it a wonderfully enthusiastic 2020 musical update, while surrounding it with some of the most creative and enjoyable original action music I have heard in quite some time.

The theme is present in ten of the score’s twelve cues (the only exceptions being “Take Back What’s Ours” and the conclusive “One Last Time”), which means that the whole thing is awash in 1990s action movie nostalgia. When Balfe really goes for broke and lets loose with the theme, the effect is quite intoxicating. From the brilliant opening salvo in “Bad Boys for Life,” to the numerous subsequent statements in the blistering “It’s Good Shit Lieutenant,” “What Else You Got,” “God’s Gun,” and “We Ride Together, We Die Together,” all the ingredients are there: electric guitars, Latin percussion, modern drum kits, roaring horns, staccato string pulses, swaggering keyboards. I could be cruising down Collins Avenue in a top-down convertible to the sound of these beats. The fact that Nick Glennie-Smith is the one conducting the orchestra gives the whole thing a real kick of 1990s authenticity too.

But rather than simply state the theme verbatim, Balfe actually does a lot with it. He mixes up the orchestration, the rhythmic timings, and the emotional intent – there’s a great, slow, reflective version of the theme in “Promise to God” that really changes the entire mood – and he enhances the whole thing even further with a choral arrangement in the aforementioned trio “Bad Boys for Life,” “It’s Good Shit Lieutenant,” and “We Ride Together, We Die Together,” to give the score some real dramatic depth. Cleverly, there are also numerous moments where Balfe strips the theme down to just a short sequence of notes, and inserts it into the fabric of the action music, ensuring that the entire thing feels like a cohesive whole. In essence, Balfe has done to Mancina’s Bad Boys theme what he did to Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible themes on Fallout, and for me that was one of the most impressive things about that score.

Speaking of the action music, anyone who has enjoyed Balfe’s work in the video game world will find the action writing in Bad Boys for Life especially satisfying. Throughout the score, the percussion patterns and string phrasing he uses reminded me very much of scores as varied as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and the numerous entries in the Skylanders series, both of which are considered by many to be some of the most outstanding action scores of Balfe’s career to date, in any genre. Cues like “It’s Good Shit Lieutenant,” “What Else You Got,” “God’s Gun,” “We Ride Together, We Die Together,” and the occasionally quite brutal “Ambulance Heist” throb and pulse to rollicking brass calls, fluttering string figures, electronic sound design elements, and monumental percussion hits, the latter of which often have a definite Cuban/salsa edge. I love the quivering pan flutes and the unexpected sleigh bells that run all the way through “What Else You Got,” and I love the clear allusions to Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight style in “We Ride Together, We Die Together”. It’s all just so creative and engaging.

Conversely, the slower parts of the score which deal with the less frenetic elements of the story – Marcus’s fears of ageing and increasing need to be with his family, Mike’s brushes with mortality, and the main driving force of the plot involving a Mexican cartel and buried secrets in Mike’s past – feel like reflections of the additional music Balfe wrote for Max Richter on Ad Astra last year, albeit with a slight Hispanic twist to speak to the appropriate musical cultures. Cues like “Take Back What’s Ours” and parts of “Prayer,” “The Truth,” and “We Ride Together, We Die Together” engage in this more intimate writing, blending electronics and shifting string textures with acoustic guitars, some interesting metallic and shaken percussion ideas, and occasionally a soft-focus choir.

For anyone who, like me, still has a lingering affinity for those intensely masculine 1990s Media Ventures power masterpieces – Speed, Twister, The Rock, Crimson Tide, Backdraft, and so on – Bad Boys for Life will be a welcome and thoroughly engaging jolt of nostalgia. However, what makes this score in particular stand out is how Balfe has taken everything that is good about that sound and that style, and blended it with everything that is good about ultra-contemporary Hollywood action scoring. It’s an effective combination of modern minimalism with 1990s maximalism, where an occasional bit of Hans Zimmer sound design is married to bold, uncompromising Mark Mancina mega-anthems, to the benefit of both. Add to this a fruity and tempestuous dose of Latin percussion, and a full-throated choir, and you’ve got one of the freshest and most energetic action scores of Lorne Balfe’s career.

Buy the Bad Boys for Life soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Bad Boys for Life (2:47)
  • It’s Good Shit Lieutenant (3:19)
  • Take Back What’s Ours (2:09)
  • We’re Dangerous People (3:46)
  • What Else You Got? (3;13)
  • Prayer (3:12)
  • God’s Gun (2:37)
  • The Truth (4:52)
  • Promise to God (2:59)
  • We Ride Together, We Die Together (6:02)
  • Ambulance Heist (2:59)
  • One Last Time (1:57)

Running Time: 39 minutes 52 seconds

Sony Classical (2020)

Music composed by Lorne Balfe. Conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith. Orchestrations by Shane Rutherford-Jones, Alessandro Apolloni and Vincenzo di Francesco. Original ‘Bad Boys’ theme by Mark Mancina. Additional music by Max Aruj, Steffen Thum, Sven Faulconer and Steve Davis. Recorded and mixed by Scott Michael Smith and Jason La Rocca. Edited by Joseph S. DeBeasi and Nicholas Fitzgerald. Album produced by Lorne Balfe.

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