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‘Bad Boys 3’ Coming Together as the Revival Plot Thickens at Sony (EXCLUSIVE)

Sony Pictures is close to greenlighting “Bad Boys For Life,” Variety has learned.

Reuniting Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as two of Miami PD’s most infamous officers has taken years to pull off, but a new draft of a script appears to have met with the producers’ approval and it looks as though production on the sequel could begin in early 2019. The plan is for the third “Bad Boys” to be in theaters by Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in 2020. Smith is on board to reprise his role as Detective Mike Lowrey. Lawrence has yet to come to terms, but the comic continues to circle the project.

Sony declined to comment on specifics related to negotiations or even address the possibility that the cameras will soon be rolling on another installment in the series. However, in an earlier interview the studio did speak to Variety more broadly about its vision for several key franchises.

“If we’re going to make another ‘Bad Boys’ after 15 years, it’s got to be next-level great,” said Columbia Pictures president Sanford Panitch.

Panitch’s team is keeping the details under wraps, but the studio believes that screenwriter Chris Bremner (“The Wedding Ringer”) has delivered the right mixture of action set pieces and laughs. Bremner is the latest writer to take a crack at the film — David Guggenheim and Joe Carnahan have also made attempts, with Carnahan on board to direct at one point. He’s now handed those duties off to Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who are best known for directing episodes of FX’s “Snowfall.” Michael Bay previously oversaw the Bad Boys franchise, but Panitch thinks the new team is the right fit.

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“These guys are amazing,” he said. “They loved the first movies, but they’re not afraid to change things up.”

Panitch said making another “Bad Boys” would have been inconceivable without the key actors, but bringing back the original stars isn’t the only way that studio has been revitalizing older franchises. Sony’s problem is not unique. The studio is punching up against Disney, which boasts an arsenal of Marvel, Pixar, and LucasFilm that gives them control of series such as the Avengers, Toy Story, and Star Wars. It has fallen to Panitch and Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman to go through the cupboards and try to find ways to reintroduce franchises that in many cases are decades old. That can be difficult, since older properties can sometimes look dangerously out of touch.

One of their first experiments, the 2017 “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was a major success. The decision to cast Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, as well as to inject video game elements into the picture, paid off with a $962 million gross. That’s a strong result considering that 20 years separated the film from the first “Jumanji.” Of course, not every franchise has benefited from a reboot. Sony’s attempts to reboot “Ghostbusters” with an all-female team of paranormal investigators failed to ignite, earning a disappointing $229 million on a $144 million budget.

Analysts say it can be difficult to find the right formula for revisiting older films or series. A successful reboot is equal parts inspiration and luck.

“There are certain benefits,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with ComScore. “There’s built-in recognition and affection for a brand and you know the premise has worked in the past. But it can’t seem exploitative or overly cute either.”

In the coming months, Sony will release reboots of its “Charlie’s Angels” and “Men in Black” franchises, and is hard at work developing a spin-off of “21 Jump Street” that will focus on female undercover cops.

“The north star for us is wanting our movies to feel different, not done before, not recycled,” said Panitch. “Because of the volume of streaming content out there and television content, we spend a lot of time around here talking about a movie’s theatricality and making sure we believe it achieves cinema worthiness.”

It has also meant embracing diverse casting. The upcoming “Men in Black” reboot finds Tessa Thompson cast opposite Chris Hemsworth. Likewise, the Elizabeth Banks-directed “Charlie’s Angels” reboot features Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska alongside Kristen Stewart. Banks’ “Charlie’s Angels” will inevitably lean into the female empowerment angle more than the McG-directed 2000 film (it’s unlikely a character will be introduced dancing in her underwear as Cameron Diaz did in that film).

“Elizabeth Banks is very clued in to what young girls and women are interested in,” said Panitch. “We live in a world where a woman is running the CIA. We didn’t want this to be an anachronism. Elizabeth wanted the mythology of Charlie’s Angels to evolve.”

One idea that has been abandoned is to have the “Men in Black” and “21 Jump Street” franchises overlap in some kind of mashup. That pitch from Chris Lord and Phil Miller is no longer on the front burner. Instead, Sony is focusing on finding the right female comedians to give send back to high school with badges. Rodney Rothman, the writer behind the first two “Jump Street” films, is writing the script and will direct.

“We think that there’s something fun about keeping that irreverent spirit of ‘Jump Street,’ but maybe having it be told through a female undercover cop point-of-view,” said Panitch. “We’ve had enough male buddy comedies. The script is really funny and has a freshness to it.”

To be fair, Sony isn’t just reviving old favorites. The studio is also trying to create new franchises, whether its last spring’s “Peter Rabbit” the low-budget thriller “Searching,” or the upcoming “Venom” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

When it comes to raiding the vaults, Panitch and his team have tried to find one compelling idea that can justify dusting off aging series. In the case of “Charlie’s Angels” it’s giving it a grittier spin. With “21 Jump Street,” it’s leaning into a more feminist perspective. It’s unclear what the big idea is with “Bad Boys 3,” but Panitch says there will be one.

“With these movies you have to have one big idea for the film,” said Panitch. “In some ways, this big idea is ultimately more important than the brand itself.”

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