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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

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…

And my father was a real ugly man.

Marty (1955)
(SPOILERS) It might be the very unexceptional good-naturedness of Marty that explains its Best Picture Oscar success. Ernest Borgnine’s Best Actor win is perhaps more immediately understandable, a badge of recognition for versatility, having previously attracted attention for playing iron-wrought bastards. But Marty also took the Palme d’Or, and it’s curious that its artistically-inclined jury fell so heavily for its charms (it was the first American picture to win the award; Lost Weekend won the Grand Prix when that was still the top award).

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.

Doctor Sleep (2019)
(SPOILERS) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times be difficult due to the overt referencing, it’s an affecting and often effective tale of personal redemption and facing the – in this case literal – ghosts of one’s past.

It’s like being smothered in beige.

The Good Liar (2019)
(SPOILERS) I probably ought to have twigged, based on the specific setting of The Good Liar that World War II would be involved – ten years ago, rather than the present day, so making the involvement of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren just about believable – but I really wish it hadn’t been. Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay, adapting Nicholas Searle’s 2016 novel, offers a nifty little conning-the-conman tale that would work much, much better without the ungainly backstory and motivation that impose themselves about halfway through and then get paid off with equal lack of finesse.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

The sooner we are seamen again, the better.

The Bounty (1984)
(SPOILERS) How different might David Lean’s late career have been if Ryan’s Daughter hadn’t been so eviscerated, and his confidence with it? Certainly, we know about his post-A Passage to India projects (Empire of the Sun, Nostromo), but there were fourteen intervening years during which he surely might have squeezed out two or three additional features. The notable one that got away was, like Empire of the Sun, actually made: The Bounty. But by Roger Donaldson, after Lean eventually dropped out. And the resulting picture is, as you might expect, merely okay, notable for a fine Anthony Hopkins performance as Bligh (Lean’s choice), but lacking any of the visual poetry that comes from a master of the craft.

We just cut up our girlfriend with a chainsaw. Does that sound "fine"?

Evil Dead II (1987)
(SPOILERS) Evil Dead II (also known with the subtitle Dead by Dawn) is one of the funniest films ever made, as a result of which it remains a high-water mark Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have yet to surpass. Understandably so, it will be no blemish against them if they are unable to again equal the sheer energy, inventiveness, exuberance, glee and craziness very throw into its every frame. It’s the movie that made both their careers, and the every definition of cult fare; one that was an extremely modest success on first release, but whose reputation has grown steadily. How large that currently is will likely be gauged by the current Ash vs The Evil Dead series but, provided the central ingredients comprising Ash are intact and the camerawork is sufficiently unhinged, the ingredients that arrived fully-formed in glorious cockeyed form here, it too could become at very least its own cult item.

If The Evil Dead is a horror movie that succeeds in being gruey but fails to…