IT’S March 2022. Will Smith is riding high. His latest film, King Richard, is a critical hit and his performance has earned him a nomination for Best Actor at the Oscars. It’s his third nod but the ceremony is abuzz. Word on the carpet has it that the win is finally his.

Chris Rock takes to the stage. He’s presenting the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature but drops a crass gag about Smith’s wife, fellow actor Jada Pinkett Smith. She smiles graciously, if stiffly, but Smith is on his feet.

You know the rest. Within 24 hours, over 50 million people across the globe had seen “the slap”. Smith won the Oscar but it was all that he lost that made the headlines. Two years down the line, Smith remains banned from all Academy events, he’s separated from Pinkett Smith and their foundation charity is, reportedly, on the brink of collapse.

In short, it’s hard to imagine a more dramatic fall from grace. For any other star, a comeback would seem unimaginable.

And yet, Will Smith is not any other star. This week sees the release of Bad Boys: Ride or Die, film four in the long running franchise and Smith’s first since 2022. It’s a big moment, his first test in a box office environment still shaken by the Covid years. Time to either ride or die.

It’s not without irony, then, that the film sees Smith’s Detective Lieutenant "Mike" Lowrey compelled to clear the name of his reputation damaged former captain. In truth, it all seems a little too close to reality to be completely unintentional.

Alongside Smith, Martin Lawrence is, of course, back in action, with Eric Dane and Ioan Gruffudd joining series returners Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, John Salley and Joe Pantoliano.

Having overseen the successful Bad Boys For Life back in 2020, double act Adil and Bilall once again take on directing duties here, working from a script by Chris Bremner and Aquaman’s Will Beall.

Almost 30 years on from the original Bad Boys, Ride or Die boasts surprising energy for a franchise four films deep. Much of this remains down to the central chemistry of Lawrence and Smith, whose gigawatt charisma proves undiminished.

Certainly, it seems hard to conceive of a future in which Smith’s fresh start will be anything short of princely.