Skip to main content

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?


2 Guns
(2013)

(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.


It doesn’t compute, really. Wahlberg can be pretty forgettable if he’s cast against his strengths; put him in a Max Payne or We Own the Night (or The Italian Job or Shooter or Contraband – even though those are mildly agreeable diversions) and he barely leaves an impression. He fares even less well without the support of an action template; look at The Lovely Bones or The Happening. But ask him to play dumb, or stick him in a comedy, or just make him goofy, and he comes alive. He’s great in The Departed, a hoot in The Other Guys and is by far the best thing about Ted.  But I didn’t expect him to knock it out of the park here. He’s reteaming with his Contraband director Baltasar Kormákur, not obviously a recipe for chuckles. And Denzel tends to make short work of his younger co-stars (see also Unstoppable and Safe House).


But it’s Washington who’s left looking a bit tired; we’ve seen him do this too many times lately. The smartest guy, hip to the game, acting all tough but you know that he’s a nice family guy underneath (I even had this problem slightly with Training Day); for all his bag of tricks he doesn’t really disappear into his roles. The result is that Wahlberg seems more natural.  He’s playing an excited kid, eager to be pals with Denzel. While they both get good dialogue, it’s Marky Mark’s that really takes off; a succession of dumb-smart quips and unmannered innocence. Nevertheless, the pair has strong chemistry; even though the camaraderie is trying to a bit too hard in places.


The twosome are play a couple of undercover guys, neither of whom realised the other was undercover. Wahlberg’s Stig is working for Naval Intelligence, Washington’s Bobby for DEA. Ostensibly to bring down drug baron Papi Greco. They rob a Mexican bank, only to end up with (a lot) more loot than they were counting on. And then they find themselves double-crossed. And then they find out each other’s identity. And then Wahlberg shoots Washington.


This is Blake Masters’ first produced movie script, based on Steve Grant’s graphic novel, and it’s clearly indebted to the profane, ultra-violent, densely plotted work of Shane Black (so much so that there’s even a somewhat suspect depiction of female characters – or in this case character). As mentioned, Masters is at times straining for the quick-fire buddy banter. To that extent, it’s not a complete success; there’s a nagging feeling that this is derivative of something better, content with an obvious line when he knows he could do better. Kormàkur’s direction is perfectly serviceable when it comes to the action, but he isn’t a particularly witty director (on this evidence). But it hits more than it misses, and the laughs that come thick and fast are entirely down to the performers (well, and the script). During the early stages, the movie struggles to hit a groove; the lines are there, the actors are heating their beats, but the director isn’t quite enabling it all.


That may be because there’s a slight floundering generally until the duo’s identities are exposed. They’re playing parts, but you don’t know how much, and Kormàkur (maybe it was there from the start, but it feels like an adjustment for little dramatic reason) throws in a flashback in the opening five minutes that pays off after 20; it’s never clear why it was necessary, other than to mix things up a bit.


Nevertheless, as a storyline this is both consistently ridiculous and intriguing; it holds the attention with its disparate strands until the finale. And, when the climax arrives, the results don’t disappoint. There’s a conspiracy involved, and it’s always a pleasure to see the US government agencies, or the military, or both, depicted as fundamentally crooked (because, like, they are; right?) There’s a sop presented, as an attempt to balance it out for the average Joe (“You fight for the guy that’s fighting next to you”) who serves his country, but it’s pat and contrived. As if, amidst all this cynicism, someone thought they’d better throw in something aspirational.


This is, after all, a movie where one of the heroes suggests waterboarding as his next move in an interrogation and we’re presumably supposed to think it’s a good thing (actually, I’m not sure we are; the script is so self-consciously smart aleck that any apparent position may just be contrary for the sake of it). Maybe Wahlberg felt a little guilty about it all (he is a committed Christian, after all); his next picture is a slice of gung ho jingoism from starch patriot and all round War on Terror proponent Peter Berg. We can only hope it’s fractionally as good as Battleshit. Denzel, meanwhile, has remade The Equalizer. One wonders if it will play up the vigilantism or turn out more like a one-man A-Team. Certainly, the actor has been enjoying a spate of low calorie anti-hero roles in the last couple of years; they’ve been consistently well made, but none of them have attained greatness.  2 Guns might be the best of this run, but it’s a movie you know you’ve seen before.


The picture has an expectedly flippant attitude to receiving and inflicting violence; everything is exaggerated and OTT - this is the other aspect that most reminds me of Shane Black’s work. When our heroes are imperilled, they are more likely to insult their abusers than kowtow to them.  Kormàkur’s eye for action is a keen one; he keeps the pace up and renders his spatial geometry coherent (always something to be celebrated in an age where shaking a camera is the go-to technique for any action sequence). The sharpshooting scene at Stig’s apartment is particularly effective, but the director’s work as a whole is confident enough that there’s little to single out. But I must mention that, as a keen observer of chicken carnage, this movie reaches a nadir of wanton devastation. The CGI chicken wrangler must have had his work cut out for him.


The guest cast are mostly very good, although Paula Patton’s poker face is abysmal, and Kormàkur singularly fails to limit the tells in this regard. It’s a consistent problem in murder mysteries where the cast of characters is very limited, that you are reduced to one or two suspects so the reveal isn’t really surprising (Sea of Love, anyone?) So too with double-cross plots.  Edward James Olmos Paxton is having a ball as the cartel boss, one with a penchant for urinating over his own hands. Fred Ward makes a welcome appearance (it’s not as if he’s stopped working, but his profile has been disappointingly low of late). 


James Marsden is the weak link as Wahlberg’s superior; you need someone of equal presence to his co-stars, but Marsden only succeeds in getting worked up into a frightfully bad mood. He behaves more like a temperamental teenager than a naval officer. Pick of the supporting players is Bill Paxton, oozing malevolence and gifted with lines almost as funny as Wahlberg’s. It’s a treat to watch him, and he’s another actor who hasn’t been seen nearly enough on the big screen lately.


In a summer where spectacle has dictated content to repeatedly disappointing pay-offs, 2 Guns bucks the trend. It may be a little too reminiscent of the action movies of yesteryear, but it is also funny, well-staged and moves at a sufficient clip for you not to catch up with where its headed. Boring title, though.

***1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Well, who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is something of an anomaly; a quality conspiracy thriller borne not from any distinct political sensibility on the part of its makers but simple commercial instincts. Of course, the genre has proved highly successful over the years so it's easy to see why big name producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have chased that particular gravy boat. Yet they did so for some time without success; by the time the movie was made, Simpson had passed away and Bruckheimer was flying solo. It might be the only major film in the latter's career that, despite the prerequisite gloss and stylish packaging, has something to say. More significant still, 15 years too late, the film's warnings are finally receiving recognition in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, John Patterson levelled the charge that Enemy was one of a number of Hollywood movies that have “been softening us up f…

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.