Monday, August 19, 2013
2 GUNS Not Fully Loaded
2 GUNS Review:
- Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg are two of the reigning kings of tough-guy movie banter. Put them together, and by god, you'll get a movie filled with sharp back-and-forth exchanges the likes of which only exist in Hollywood action movies. And that's fine. In this post-Bourne age of stark, gritty, minimalist action flicks, it can be refreshing to see a good old-fashioned shoot-'em-up in the Lethal Weapon mode. 2 Guns succeeds on that base level - it's got two legitimate stars acting star-like and basically carrying the movie by sheer force of will and charisma. But aside from the likability of its leads and a couple of other fun turns from fan-favorite actors, 2 Guns has little else going for it. It's a case study in how fun casting alone does not a good movie make.
The plot is one of those action movie staples - the identity double-switch. On the surface, Bobby Trench (Washington) and Michael Stigman (Wahlberg) are a criminal duo with a knack for high-stakes bank robberies and drug-running. They have an uneasy friendship made complicated by the fact that each of them harbors a secret that the other doesn't know about. As it turns out, Trench is actually an undercover DEA agent who thinks he's using Stigman to help take down a major drug operation from the inside. At the same time, Stigman is actually an undercover Naval Intelligence agent who thinks he's using Trench to find a cache of stolen money. What? TWO undercover agents working together - each thinking that the other is legitimately a crook?! Imagine the shenanigans.
Because, hey, all of this is perfectly good fodder for a classic 80's action comedy. I referenced Lethal Weapon previously, and that's really the perfect template for how to do a movie like this right. But 2 Guns has a sort of nu-metal sheen where it wants to be bro-tastically funny, but not goofy-funny in the way that the best cheesy 80's action comedies unabashedly were. I lay a lot of blame on director Baltasar Kormákur. His first film, Contraband (also starring Wahlberg) had a very generic, humorless feel. And that same feeling is prevalent in 2 Guns. Washington and Wahlberg do a lot of heavy lifting to give the movie personality, but they can only do so much. As the movie ambles on, and their characters still mostly feel like empty shells who each have one distinguishing personality trait (Washington's Trench is world-weary and irritable, Wahlberg's Stigman is peppy and child-like), the fuel that powers the movie starts to really run dry.
It doesn't help that so many of the other great actors in the film feel mostly wasted. The gorgeous and talented Paula Patton has leading lady written all over her, but she's pure window dressing here - the latest in a long line of semi-creepily young actresses who are in a Denzel Washington movie just to be his arm candy and/or a walking plot twist. Meanwhile, the great Edward James Olmos pops up as a grizzled drug lord. Olmos has some moments of true badassery in the movie, and is a highlight overall - but it's a relatively minor role. I also thought it was surprising that James Marsden's role as a corrupt naval captain was so underwritten. I kept waiting to better understand the character's motivations, but that explanation never came. Really, the one villain who really gets to shine is Bill Paxton as a ruthless and sadistic heavy. Paxton gets some meaty scenes of over-the-top evil, that add some much-needed colorfulness to the film. But even Paxton's character, like so many others in the movie, seems to exist just for the purpose of a couple of cool scenes - never feeling much like a fully-formed character. The problems often feel compounded when the movie introduces any of its many plot-twists. As characters reveal themselves to be something other than what we originally thought, their motivations, methods, and M.O.'s become even more muddled.
It's frustrating, because as the movie's plot reveals itself, it seems like it might want to say something about the corrupting influence of power and money, or ... something. But the movie literally says nothing, at the end of the day, about any of its characters. Did Trench or Stigman *like* being criminals? Part of the plot arc of the movie is about how any number of figures working for supposedly benevolent institutions turn out to be as if not more corrupt than the criminals they're at odds with. But beyond using this fact as a means for plot twists, the film really does nothing else with it. I guess the film is going for a sort of anarchic, "let 'em burn" sort of attitude. But even that - there's nothing really to it. I know, this is an action movie. But it's an action movie that seems to honestly care little about its own plot. Or its characters, really, beyond, "hey, check it, Denzel and Marky Mark are gettin' all bromantic - ain't that hilarious?"
There's enough fun to be had with Denzel, Wahlberg, Olmos, and Paxton to make this a decently entertaining flick. It's a fun excuse to see Olmos and Paxton as scenery-chewing villains. And for the guys, well, the movie pretty blatantly exploits Patton's assets in such a way as to ensure this movie is Google-searched for all of infinity. Beyond that though, it's pretty meh. It's high time for Denzel Washington to be in a truly great film again (and no, I don't count Flight). No more of these "Denzel and random other actor as adversarial badasses" action movies. Okay, maybe one more, if it's awesome. But seriously, where's the guy who did Malcolm X? As for 2 Guns, there are better movies out there to see.
My Grade: C