Does Bad Boys: Ride or Die Really Reference ‘The Slap’?

The following article contains major spoilers for Bad Boys: Ride or Die.

Will Smith’s Bad Boys: Ride or Die, the fourth film in a smooth-brained, fun-loaded action franchise that has now pretty much stuck the landing four times in a row, takes in many of the themes that are by now familiar in legacyquels wherein the aging stars reckon with their, y’know, legacies.

Drop the skincare regime, because you’d never tell, but Smith is going to be 56 in September; his Bad Boys partner Martin Lawrence is approaching 60. So it’s no surprise that Ride or Die is chock full of rumination on lives well-lived, gets way more existentially weird than a silly blockbuster sequel has any right to, and offers Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett—at the twilight of their active careers on the force—space to most poignantly contend with their mistakes and the missteps that haunt them.

It feels more than a little meta, not least with recent events in mind. Ride or Die is the second major movie release that Smith has led since his highly publicized outburst at the Oscars in 2022, wherein he slapped Chris Rock on stage for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett, won Best Actor about a half-hour later, and was subsequently banned from attending the ceremony for the next decade. He apologized in a YouTube video later that year, and has reflected on the incident plenty of times after that. While he did lead 2022’s Apple TV+ slavery thriller Emancipation, for which he had been tipped for more Oscars success, it opened in such close proximity to the controversy that its release was met with very little fanfare and generally unfavorable reviews.

Ride or Die offers a second shot at redemption, and some critics have detected in it a less-than-subtle nod to The Slap. As mentioned, Ride or Die is primarily concerned on a thematic level with these two embattled Miami gunslingers getting too old for this shit; they’re not quite as sharp as they once were, and Marcus almost dies of a heart attack at the beginning on the dance floor of Mike’s wedding reception. For his part, Mike begins suffering panic attacks in the middle of gun battles, which he gruffly shrugs off to start with like your uncle who thinks that “mental health” is a woke conspiracy perpetuated by the Twitter Left.

His last panic attack comes in the middle of a climactic assault on the main bad guy’s big-bad lair, an abandoned alligator theme park in the Florida Everglades. Just as he starts to hallucinate his dead mentor, Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), in what is telegraphed to be a poignant moment of self-forgiveness, Marcus breaks Mike out of his stupor with a mighty series of slaps. My audience, which was packed to the rafters, laughed their asses off, but this is where I must put my hands up and say I might be a dummy: I found the moment funny as a subversion of a trope—that whole thing with action heroes overcoming personal doubt at a pivotal moment—but didn’t immediately clock the reference.

Nevertheless, a lot of reviewers have put two and two together, and in retrospect, you’d imagine it is a deliberate nod, unless everyone on the set of Ride or Die was deeply lacking self-awareness, which seems unlikely of a movie that knows what it is to a fault. And hey, if you’re Smith—or his beleaguered PR team—you’d chomp at the bit to pull that scene off: nothing goes over after a period of controversy like self-deprecation, signposting that you’ve done the requisite personal growth and can even take the piss out of yourself. This time, he’d rather be in on the joke.

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