‘Bad Boys 4’ Directors Adil & Bilall on Will Smith and Martin Lawrence ‘Freestyling’ the Slap Joke, and Their Ideas for a Fifth Movie

Following the franchise-topping $426 million success of “Bad Boys for Life” was going to be a tough task for any director. Fortunately, “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” has two — the Belgian directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, collectively billed as Adil & Bilall.

In this fourth installment, Adil & Bilall send Miami PD detectives Mike Lowery (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) on the run, framed for crimes they didn’t commit. And the production had plenty of hurdles to get over before it, too, could clear a path to success. First, there was Smith’s 2022 Oscars slap; then production was suspended by Hollywood’s historic dual strikes.

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The film hit theaters on June 7 and became the first movie to jolt Hollywood’s summer box office, grossing $106 million at the global box office from a $100 million production budget (not accounting for the price of the splashy world tour to promote the film). To date, the movie has made $227 million worldwide, bringing the “Bad Boys” franchise’s box office above $1 billion globally.

They haven’t gotten official word from Sony chief Tom Rothman or stars Smith and Lawrence that they’re a “go” for a fifth film in the franchise, but the directing duo certainly have ideas.

“[‘Bad Boys’ producer] Jerry Bruckheimer has a philosophy: you’ve got to make something that people want to see, and nowadays that’s even more important than before,” El Arbi adds. “We make every movie as if it’s our last movie. Because it might be, so we’ve gotta go all the way.”

Fourth installments are tricky. Were you ever nervous that the audience might not show up?

Adil El Arbi: Always — especially in these times, you’re never sure anymore. In a post-Covid world, cinemas are not the same as before, the habits have changed, especially because of streaming, so yeah, you hope. You’re trying to do your best, and you’re motivated even more to try to make this one an event, getting into the mind of the audience as much as possible and trying to give them a satisfying experience. Up until the weekend itself, we didn’t sleep.

Bilall Fallah: The day that we finished the movie, Adil was on Reddit checking the tracking. Every day we’re analyzing everything and asking everybody, how it’s going and if it’s gonna work?

El Arbi: A big thank you to all the Redditors, because I discovered a whole other world. How they would analyze all the tracking and the presales, and what it means, and the history of other movies. Reddit was the lifeline, so shout out to the box office Redditors. And Bilall was looking at the reaction on Twitter.

What moment have people reacted to the most?

Fallah: People applaud, people cheer, you feel like people are in a concert. It’s a real cinema experience and it just makes me so damn happy. Will and Martin — you feel like the love around the world for them.

What everybody was talking about is obviously the Reggie scene [as Marcus’ stoic son-in-law, played by Dennis McDonald, shows off his combat stills to fend off a troupe of bad guys] — he’s the MVP of the movie.

Let’s talk about the SnorriCam. It provides the flavor of a first-person shooter video game. What was it like using this new technology and seeing how your actors were able to operate it?

El Arbi: When we knew that the budget was roughly going to be the same as the previous one, we knew that we’re not going to be able to do the craziest, “Mission: Impossible”-level things, so we tried to find a way to make something fresh and interesting visually. Things that are not a copy of the previous movie, but also not a copy of all the great action franchises, whether it’s “John Wick” or “Fast and Furious.”

So together with our cinematographer, Robrecht Heyvaert, who’s from Belgium, we were brainstorming and checking out the internet for interesting rigs on social media — on TikTok and Instagram you’ve got cinematography channels — and also video games to try to incorporate that aesthetic. Video games are now bigger than movies.

That’s where Robrecht came across the SnorriCam, which had been used in a Russian movie, but had never really been used in Hollywood before. The tricky thing is that, because the actor needs to operate it himself or herself, it’s not that easy. When we showed it to Will, he thought it was a fantastic idea. I thought that it was going to be super cool up until he had to wear it. It’s difficult, because you’ve got to be a camera operator with a very heavy rig and, at the same time, you need to shoot the gun.

It took a really a long time to train and we weren’t 100% sure that it was going to work out, because there were some technical problems. And on the day itself, it took a whole day of rehearsing before we finally could do the shots with all the special effects happening and the stunts. It was a very, very complicated shot. But Will and Jerry Bruckheimer felt like if it worked out, it’d be memorable — because you’ve seen first-person [shots] before, but you’ve never seen how it goes from the first person to the actor and back, while moving the whole time.

Fans have commented that after seeing this film, there’s no way that your “Batgirl” movie could’ve been “unreleaseable,” as Warner Bros. Discovery claimed when they shelved it in 2022. What does it mean that so many people are still itching to see that movie?

El Arbi: When that happened, we put all our energy and inspiration into “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” to try to turn a negative into a positive, to really show the world this is what we can do if you allow us to do our thing. That’s why you have that enthusiasm and energy. Trying to get funky and be as original, visually, as possible. That frustration of “We could not show the other one, so at least we can showcase this one.”

We don’t know what’s going to happen [with “Batgirl”]. As far as we’re concerned, it’s always going to be in some vault somewhere, and you’ve got to just move on and look to the future. But it means a lot that the audience watched this movie and had this reaction and we have their trust. Now, the audience can gauge what we can do or what our talent is, and hopefully that they will be there in the future for our next project.

Fallah: I just want to revisit Gotham City again one day.

Well, a lot of people would like for you to visit Spider-Man’s New York instead, as possible directors for “Spider-Man 4.” Thoughts?

El Arbi: That’d be cool, if they allow us. If they ask us.

Fallah: We love Spider-Man and we love New York.

El Arbi: We love Batman, Batgirl, Gotham. All of them. It’s our thing.

Going back to “Bad Boys 4”: toward the end of the movie, Martin slaps Will multiple times. What was it like going into that scene knowing it’s a callback to the incident at the Oscars?

Fallah: Will is coming with this idea; he made this movie really personal. Will was really engaged from the first second that we started pre-production until the last day of the edit. When we were shooting that moment, the sun was going down and we were like, “We didn’t finish the scene,” so that was really almost a freestyle moment.

I heard there wasn’t rehearsal for the scene. It was that freestyle that you mentioned. So, on the page there was a slap and that turned into four or five?

Fallah: No, that was not on the page. That was in the moment.

El Arbi: That was on the spot. We just said, like, “Yeah, Martin, just go ahead. More, more.”

Were either of them nervous about it afterward?

Fallah: No. We all thought it was funny. That’s really what we were going for. We were not 100% sure how people would respond to it.

What did you make of the way the audience responded? Did it feel like they got the joke?

El Arbi: It felt like a big release, for some reason. Like there was some kind of tension and then a release, and the audience laughed and enjoyed that moment. You’re never 100% sure, up until you test it, how they’re gonna react. The fact that, in the test screenings, it was one of the biggest laughs you could have, we felt like, “Okay, we did the right thing.” It worked out, and it was important for that moment, for the movie and for Will.

Tell me about working with Will and Martin to personalize this movie. What were those early conversations like? What did they want to say?

Fallah: Even though it’s an action-comedy popcorn movie, they want to say something. There’s the human aspect of Mike and Marcus’ friendship. They’re getting older, and you want to see the struggles they go through. That’s the heartbeat of the movie.

You can have a generic action movie where you have the bad boys on the run; it’s a fun concept. But having that spiritual awakening, all these things are very personal for them too.

Who came up with the idea for the slo-mo gag of Martin accidentally tasting the black jellybean?

Fallah: It was during an improvisation session with the writers, Jerry, Tom Rothman, the producers and Will and Martin. We were all saying we don’t like black jellybeans.

El Arbi: We were doing the jellybean shots practically, just jellybeans flying. But then Will said, “Hey, would it be cool if you think, you’re gonna get the red jellybean, and then all of a sudden, the black pushes the red out of the way.” I said to Will, “That’s never gonna be possible in real life,” so that’s why you had to do that with CG.

“Bad Boys” is a comedy; you might say it’s more a comedy than an action movie. Those are really visual comedy moments that that are great fun and, lately, we don’t see a lot.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MAY 22: Adil El Arbi, Martin Lawrence, Will Smith and Bilall Fallah attend the Dubai Premiere of Columbia Pictures BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE at the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai on May 22, 2024. (Photo by Clint Egbert)
Adil El Arbi, Martin Lawrence, Will Smith and Bilall Fallah at the Dubai Premiere of “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” on May 22.

Are there other moments you’re particularly proud of?

El Arbi: The gator scene was our homage to Steven Spielberg — the first “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World.” When the big hanging gator comes in and Martin says, “This is like a redneck Jurassic Park,” that shot is actually from “The Lost World” with Julianne Moore.

Then, the way that we made the gator, we had a combination of a practical effects — a puppeteer who could move the eyes and all that — and CGI. We worked for a year on that. After a while, you cannot even make out the difference between when it was a puppet and when it was CGI.

How much did you leave on the cutting room floor?

El Arbi: There’s one big sequence where Martin wants to drive the Porsche — we call it the Marcus Crazy Drive. He’s just driving crazy through Miami, and in the meantime, Will is flipping [out] and very nervous. They reverse places. We had some crazy, cool Miami shots doing donuts in Brickell Avenue and all that. Sadly, we had to cut it for time.

Fallah: Another sequence was a montage where you feel like Mike is becoming Marcus and Marcus is becoming Mike, but we had to cut it for time.

El Arbi: Our “Freaky Friday” montage.

You had $100 million to make this movie — about the same budget as “Bad Boys 3.” What does that prove filmmakers can do with a budget of that scope?

El Arbi: The advantage that we have is that we make movies in Belgium. The last movie we did, “Rebel,” cost €8 million ($9 million), so we are very trained in trying to do a lot of things with less money. The age of the ginormous budget is coming to an end, because cinema is this tricky situation where you’ve got to try to make a profit, so you’ve got to do it smartly. The main difference for us between “Bad Boys for Life” and “Ride or Die,” is we had now much more experience, so we knew how to better design action sequences in advance and stick to the concepts. The better you plan your sequences, the better you can allocate the resources.

Have you had talks with Sony or Will and Martin about a fifth “Bad Boys”?

Fallah: We want to make it international. We’re going to first see what this is going to do — but what we want to go around the world with them.

What other ideas do you have for “Bad Boys 5”? Or maybe a Reggie spinoff? Or Armando [the former drug lord revealed to be Mike Lowery’s son, played by Jacob Scipio]?

El Arbi: We were imagining if there’s like Armando-Reggie spinoff. Reggie doesn’t say a lot, he’s a stoic, and Armando’s more “suavemente,” so that would be an interesting dynamic.

In every country we were imagining, how would Mike and Marcus be in France, or how would they be in the U.K., or how would they be in Dubai, or in Morocco, or in Africa, or in Asia? There’s a lot of interesting comedy that you could do with them. We’ve gotta push it to the next level in terms of action.

What would it take for Sony to greenlight a fifth film?

Fallah: They didn’t say anything, but Tom [Rothman] did email us, and it was a celebration.

El Arbi: He didn’t mention anything on any project. He’s just said, “Congrats. Really happy. We’ve gotta find something,” He didn’t say no to any suggestion we made, so anything is possible.

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