Monday, August 12, 2013

The Cinema File #234: "2 Guns" Review

Did you ever find yourself watching a movie, and just as the credits start to roll, you realize that literally every important plot beat, not to mention all the best moments, were in the trailer in pretty much sequential order? 2 Guns, the new buddy cop movie starring Mark Walberg and Denzel Washington, is probably the most egregious example of this phenomenon that I've seen in a long time, and when a movie is apparently simple enough to condense its entire story into a two to three minute ad, you've already run into some big problems. If you've seen the ads for 2 Guns, you really don't need to see the movie at all, unless you're excited enough about the set up to want to see the same action comedy cliches you've seen a thousand times played out just long enough to wear out their welcome. Its technically well-made and is elevated by the talent and charisma of its two main leads, but in the end, its marred by a lack of ambition and a sense that we've seen this all before.

2 Guns is the story of two undercover agents working for different branches of law enforcement, the DEA and Naval Intelligence respectively, who coincidentally end up partners in crime on a bank heist in which they somehow manage to steal the wrong bad guy's money and find themselves fugitives on the run from at least three different groups of antagonists. If it sounds needlessly convoluted, that's because it is, but not so much that it can't be enjoyed in a popcorn swilling shut-your-brain-off kind of way. The film is built upon a series of easily digestible twists that aren't as clever as the writer seems to think they are, but that come together surprisingly well considering all the pieces being moved around. That said, if you come into 2 Guns looking for a tense and thought provoking kind of crime thriller like, say, Danny Boyle's recent Trance, you're going to wind up disappointed.

The main draw of the movie is the relationship between Washington and Walberg, who both seem to be having a lot of fun indulging in very familiar roles. Walberg's braggy fast talking impression of a slightly more talented Vince Vaughn has grown on me over the past few years, but I can't tell if I'm just getting sick of it, or if its actually wearing thin. Washington slips into his own well worn suit as well, the ultra smooth, soft spoken coolest guy in the room, and most of the movie represents a sort of rhetorical tug of war between these two cookie cutter personalities. I can't imagine either of these characters required that much effort on the part of either of these actors, but then I can't go so far as to say that either of them are exactly phoning it in either, and to whatever extent the movie can be considered genuinely entertaining, its based on the strength of their performances and their interplay.

But it is in that very interplay that a lot of this feeling of dreadful sameness crops up, as I listen to these two loquacious criminals expelling excess wit on matters of breakfast preferences, stylish “moves,” and even diner tipping etiquette. Where have I seen this kind of thing before? Maybe in another oeuvre of films predicated on the juxtaposition of snappy dialogue and hyper-stylized violence that defined a generation of filmmakers that these producers no doubt sprang from? Okay, so apart from generally falling into the categories of slightly doofy white guy and super cool black guy, Walberg and Washington aren't necessarily Vincent and Jules rip offs in the strictest sense, but there are enough Tarantino nods to skirt well past tribute and homage and right into just plain annoying. I began to notice them in the opening scene, where right after the aforementioned tipping argument our two leads strut out of an exploding building like the Gecko brothers, and about five trunk shots later I just about puked up my Big Kahuna Burger.

All of that being said, 2 Guns isn't without its charm, and if you can get past a narrative that is both two complicated for its own good and almost mind-numbingly predictable, there are a few notable bright spots. As I alluded to before, there are a few too many bad guys to follow, but at least two of them are somewhat interesting, played by Admiral Adama and everyone's favorite tornado chasing, Titanic finding, polygamist Bill Paxton, though they tend to outshine James Marsden, which to be fair isn't that hard to do. Its light and mostly fun except for one out of place twist seemingly thrown in just for some unearned pathos, which is instantly forgotten when we need our characters to stop moping and start quipping again, and overall, I can easily say that I was never bored and rarely angered by any of the things I didn't like. Its formulaic to a fault, but made well enough that its not a total loss. See it in long form if you must, or see the trailer for the cliff notes version. Or just go watch Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction again. What do I care? 
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