Weekend film reviews: ‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die,’ ‘Robot Dreams’

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Jack Ross

“Bad Boys: Ride or Die” is about the detectives trying to clear the name of their late police captain. Credit: YouTube.

The latest film releases include Bad Boys: Ride or Die, Robot Dreams, Handling the Undead, and The Watchers. Weighing in are Witney Seibold, contributor to SlashFilm and co-host of the podcast Critically Acclaimed, and Amy Nicholson, host of the podcast Unspooled and film reviewer for The New York Times.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die

This fourth installment of the Bad Boys franchise stars Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. It’s about the detectives trying to clear the name of their late police captain. 

Seibold: “It's almost like a Spider-Verse movie, all of this swirling colors in this movie. They invented special camera rigs for Will Smith to wear while he was doing his shootout scene, so he could himself spin the camera around. … All of that is just the … sloppy salad dressing poured on top of this cop story that would have been clichéd in 1983. There is nothing interesting about the characters. There's nothing interesting about the story, if you could even follow it. … There are a lot of references to some of the previous movies. But that's something that you'd only really be interested in if you're interested in deep cut Bad Boys lore.”

Nicholson: “What is interesting about this plot — if you can say anything is interesting about this plot, because it is the same old cartel thing, which I've never cared about in any of these films — is that it really does lean heavily on themes about restoring reputations and forgiveness. And Smith gets to do a lot of apologizing for various things in this movie. … He's trying to … be back in the audience’s good graces, but not seem like he's having too much fun. But that's actually great because it means that all of the fun in this movie is being had by Martin Lawrence, who is … maybe at his best in all of the Bad Boys franchise in this movie.”  

Robot Dreams

Nominated for Best Animated Film at the 2024 Oscars, this has no dialogue and focuses on the friendship between a dog and a robot that the dog orders in a box. It’s set in a 1980s New York City populated by groovy animals. Pablo Berger is the director. 

Nicholson: “This is a film that I really wish would have won the Oscar this year. … I think it is just absolutely stunning. It's beautiful. It's a wordless all-ages story about companionship. … The dog and the robot are together. And then they're pulled apart. And then what do they do when they're pulled apart? But from that really simple setup — which is the setup that was in the original short graphic novel by Sara Varon that this was based on — he just adapts it, and fills it in with all of these beautiful detours about people searching for connection. … You see the film take pains to show that you make little compromises for all sorts of relationships or little friendships. … It silently illustrates things about friendship that I think are almost impossible to put into words, looking at different angles of the question of: Is opening ourselves up to others even worth the pain?”

Seibold: “This is really examining what friendship feels like, what a first friendship feels like, what a lasting friendship feels, like what jealousy in a friendship feels like. … It could be seen as a metaphor for a romantic relationship perhaps, but I think it's a lot more universal than that. … The director is going well out of their way, not just to have creative framing or creative shots, but in a lot of the smaller details. This is set in the 1980s in New York, and they're bothering to do things like get details on era-appropriate Cheetos bags correct, or the layout of New York streets, the actual feel of a 1980s junkyard and the kind of technology that would be in it.”

The Watchers

Ishana Shyamalan, daughter of M. Night., directs this horror flick starring Dakota Fanning. Fanning’s character is stranded in the woods, where she shelters from murderous creatures with a group of castaways. 

Nicholson:  “[Ishana Shyamalan] has a good feel for how to set a mood, how to create scares, and like her dad, she has a ton of ambition to squeeze in as much as she can into this story. …  She is a person really trying to follow her dad's lead, and figure out where to take horror, what horror can be. And she doesn't seem like she wants to settle for just doing a simple people-stuck-in-the-woods story. She has to figure out how to surprise us with a third act, and how to take the story beyond where we're expecting it to go. So I'm curious. … I want to see where her career goes because I think she's starting off pretty strong.”

Handling the Undead

This Norwegian horror mystery stars Renata Reinsve (The Worst Person in the World). In Oslo one summer, deceased members of three families come back to life. 

Seibold: “There's not even a single word of dialogue until maybe 18 minutes in. The zombies just sit there. They're not fast zombies. They're not slow zombies. They're not flesh-eating zombies. They don't speak, but they're only kind of alive. And the families who are now greeting their recently deceased loved ones now have to face the fact that their loved ones are back. But they're not back in any meaningful way. And what happens with this resurrection is they realize that their grieving is now being prolonged, that they can't really do anything to let their loved ones go, because their loved ones aren't really dead yet, but they also kind of are. The movie is aggressively depressing.”

Nicholson: “The tenderness is what really sticks out to me in this film, the tenderness of people doing so much to tend to their loved ones who are — for us watching the film — a little repellent to look at, a little useless, a little bit of a drag. But you feel the love coming from these characters for the person that they miss who they just want back.”