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The first "Bad Boys" came out in 1995, which means we're officially entering the "aging action star" territory with this installment. Typically, there are two options for a franchise getting up in years.

One can either take the Tom Cruise route, returning to a text that was originally all flash and sensation, and infusing it with a sense of soulful poignancy. The other option is to join the crude, cynical supergroup known as "The Expendables," where beloved action stars josh and jostle for a cash grab.

The "Bad Boys" franchise has taken another tack. For its fourth installment, "Bad Boys: Ride or Die," filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, known as Adil & Bilall, take the basic scaffolding and structure of the previous films — the Miami setting and the character archetypes that stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have established — and then improvise.

Adil & Bilall dutifully pay homage to the distinctive visual style of Michael Bay, director of the previous installment "Bad Boys for Life." They ape his constantly moving camera, low Dutch angles and the signature "Bad Boys shot," in which the camera circles around Smith and Lawrence as they stand up into frame, staring into the distance. But they also treat the "Bad Boys" template like a coloring book, scribbling with their own wild artistic experimentation on top of these lines.

"Ride or Die" is a declaration of action independence, using new technology like drones, and infusing the film with the visual language of video games. Bay himself utilized drones with a certain gonzo artfulness in his 2022 film, "Ambulance," but Adil & Bilall use their drones to follow people and movement in space, explore the geography of interiors and transcend screens within screens.

They also employ wild, rapidly swapping first-person-shooter-style POV shots in the shootouts, which are legible to the average gamer even if they don't always make cinematic sense. The filmmakers can easily get away with layering in this kind of stylistic experimentation because the beats of "Bad Boys" are so familiar, and in "Ride or Die," are essentially perfunctory.

Writers Chris Bremner and Will Beall offer a story that is wide but shallow. There's certainly a lot of plot, and even more characters, even if we don't get to know them all that well. This convoluted yarn concerns the bad boys' deceased Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who has been posthumously framed for corruption, accused of sharing intel with drug cartels. Marcus (Lawrence) and Mike (Smith) seek to clear his name, but find themselves at odds with Howard's U.S. Marshal daughter, Judy (Rhea Seehorn), bent on vengeance, and their colleague Rita (Paola Nuñez), who has brought the charges with her attorney/mayoral candidate fiance Lockwood (Ioan Gruffudd). Their only chance at fingering the real bad guy is Mike's drug dealer son Armando (Jacob Scipio), who has been imprisoned for the bloody chaos he wrought in "For Life."

Meanwhile, our guys are grappling with their own mortality and PTSD. After a near-death experience at Mike's wedding, Marcus finds himself spiritually renewed, feeling invincible, euphoric, babbling about his past lives. Mike, on the other hand, is gripped with anxiety as a newlywed and as a "new" father.

But this simply provides the playground upon which the filmmakers can experiment and Lawrence can clown to his heart's content. His performance is garish, but there's something about him that just wears you down over the course of two hours — one must simply submit to his comedic ministrations.

The first half of the film is overly concerned with Marcus' sugar addiction, and during one shootout in an interactive art gallery/creative space, he has a single sip of fruit punch and reacts as if he's freebased crystal meth. That theme is quickly dropped for other equally cartoonish bits, such as a run-in with a redneck militia, a callback to their infiltration of the Klan in the second movie, and a side quest to a strip club, where they tangle with Tiffany Haddish.

"Ride or Die" never quite finds its tone, but then again, the franchise has always walked the strange line of goofy and hard, teeter-tottering between Lawrence and Smith, and despite the cinematic experimentation and a couple of impressively nasty fight scenes (courtesy of the younger actors), this installment favors the goofy.

It's a thin tapestry of lore with some interesting creative embellishments, but without any real interest in character, it feels flimsy and disposable. You could do worse, but you could certainly do better.

'Bad Boys: Ride or Die'

2 stars (out of 4)

Rated: R for strong violence, language throughout and some sexual references.

Where: In theaters Friday.