By Radhika Sharma
New Delhi, July 22: As children, writer-filmmaker duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah were "huge fans" of the action-comedy "Bad Boys" series and getting the opportunity to direct a film in the franchise led by Hollywood stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence was a dream come true.
The Moroccan-Belgian directors, who recently directed the Hollywood blockbuster "Bad Boys for Life", said they wanted the film to be a hat-tip to the big action blockbusters of the 1990s in their signature style.
They said it was immense pressure to shoulder the responsibility of the threequel as they were "two nobodies who got the biggest stars in the world to direct".
"It was a dream to go to Hollywood one day and make big action movies with big stars. When finally got the chance, we said we'll make a movie which is a homage to the action movies of the '90s and at the same time put our personal flavor in it. But it was also a lot of stress because we hadn't made something like that before," El Arbi told over a Zoom call from Brussels.
Produced by Hollywood veteran Jerry Bruckheimer, Smith and Doug Belgrad, "Bad Boys for Life" will have its Indian television premiere on July 26 at 1 pm and 9 pm only on &flix SD and HD.
Fallah said working on the film was an "emotional rollercoaster".
"We are very grateful that we worked with Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and Jerry Bruckheimer. They put in so much trust in us. Having those legends who have been in this business for so long helped us strike the balance," he added.
The third film, which spawned from action master Michael Bay's directorial debut in 1995, came 17 years after the second one released in 2003 with a lot of names attached to take the series forward.
The director duo came to Bruckheimer and Smith's notice with their crime film "Black", which premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was screened in the Discovery section.
"They were big fans of that film and were trying to find a project for us," El Arbi said.
But they were eyeing "Bad Boys for Life".
"As there was another director attached at that time, they said no. After some time, the project was available, and Will asked Jerry to give that project to us. So they chose us for the movie. Once that happened, Will and Martin became like big brothers to us," he added.
The film, which released in January before the coronavirus pandemic brought life to a grinding halt, saw Smith and Lawrence reprise their roles as Miami detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett who investigate a string of murders tied to the former's troubled past.
The duo, who also went to film school together, follow the 'good cop, bad cop' dynamic in terms of directing duties.
"Adil is more on pre-production on the level of screenwriting and scripts. I'm busier with the post-production and editing.
"But on the sets, sometimes I'm more with the cameraman and Adil is more with the actors. But we often switch... Sometimes, I'm the good cop, Adil is the bad cop. Sometimes both of us are 'bad cops'," quipped Fallah.
With the continuing Black Lives Matters protests across the US following the murder of George Floyd in May, the issue of racism and police brutality is again at the forefront.
Asked how the campaign will impact films, El Arbi said though Hollywood is trying to promote diversity, it's going to take more than just movies to uproot a structural problem like racism.
Recounting working on their first Hollywood project, crime drama series "Snowfall", he said, back in 2017 they had a diverse crew both behind and in front of the camera.
"The thing is that's not going to solve the real deep structural problem. It's just a brick in the whole building that you need to build," he said.
Citing the example of the first "Bad Boys", El Arbi said Bay wanted to cast two black actors and people were "scared" as that had never happened before.
"'Bad Boys' was a revolutionary movie back in the day because it proved that such a film can be successful. Now 'Bad Boys for Life' shows that people want to see a fun, cool action movie. It doesn't matter if the lead cast is African-American, Latino, or Asians."
Whether it is putting a disclaimer with the Civil War epic "Gone With the Wind" for its long-debated controversial depiction of the black people and overt positive view of slavery or removing episodes from shows with blackface characters, El Arbi said every movie or series has to be seen in its context.
"It's good to have a disclaimer, but where do you draw the line? You are doing it with 'Gone with the Wind' and sketches like 'Little Britain'. At the same time, are you going to take down 'True Lies' because it's a bad depiction of Muslims or hundreds and hundreds of movies where Muslims are depicted as terrorists?" he asked.
Echoing similar sentiment, Fallah said taking the films away doesn't take the problem away.
"It's still important to see those movies and see case by case to know what time that movie was from and understand the historical context."
For now, they are basking in the success of "Bad Boys for Life", which is the highest-grossing film of the year.
"If the movie would have come out later, it would not be in the cinemas. So, it's a blessing... I hope everybody stays safe," said Fallah.
"I hope we can still keep making movies and that one day everyone can go to the theatres again," added El Arbi.
The duo is shooting for the Netflix drama "Soil" and is attached to direct "Beverly Hills Cop 4" starring Eddie Murphy.