2 Guns starts with a bank robbery committed by Denzel Washington and Mark Walhberg, both playing undercover agents, though neither knows the other is undercover. And then the movie gets plotty. WAY too plotty. It’s funny, because the movie is being sold entirely on the strength of its two lead actors, but it spends so much energy trying to keep the two apart, and succeeding. If it’s a “buddy movie”, that’s only because the studio says so, and not because it makes any sort of effort to be one.
It’s directed by Baltasar Kormakur, and while it’s technically competent, it doesn’t really have any sort of personality. Two names I’ve heard come up when talking about 2 Guns are Walter Hill and Sam Peckinpah. This is the sort of movie either of these two would have made if not classic, at least memorable; they would have used the movie as one of their ongoing explorations into brotherhood and masculinity. What Kormakur gives us is the occasionally witty banter between Washington and Walhberg… at least during those moments they’re actually on-screen together. Thankfully, the two are entertaining personalities, so that is enough to keep you mildly entertained.
Hill and Peckinpah were also masters at presenting violence cinematically. 2 Guns has quite a few action set pieces, and while I was entertained while watching them, they don’t leave much of an impression (other than that red 1964 Impala with 43 million dollars in the trunk that blows up in slo-mo as Washington and Walhberg do a “cool walk” away from the vehicle, but that’s only because I was sad for the car going out the way it did.)
The movie gets a lot of mileage playing off the idea of government distrust. With the current uproar over the NSA and cell phones, there hasn’t been this much unanimous and vocal public outrage over government shenanigans in a long time. The filmmakers are canny in exploiting that distrust; even though the movie features a drug lord (Edward James Olmos) who recently decapitated a man and put his head in a bowling bag, he’s not even the baddest bad guy in the movie. At least he seems to abide by some sort of code. But the U.S. government? Whatever is beneficial for this moment is paramount, so pity the poor person who made a deal 5 minutes ago and actually hopes that deal still means anything.
Thank goodness for Bill Paxton! Without getting too much into particulars, he plays the man responsible for the money that was stolen, and he looks like he’s having a blast playing him. He doesn’t have a threatening presence, but he plays the character like a wannabe bully who happens to have very powerful people backing him up, so he and is evil id are taking full advantage of it. It’s like he’s been given a lifetime GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card and he’s more than happy to indulge in its privileges. Whenever Paxton appears on-screen, it’s the only time the movie really comes to life; he brings an unpredicability that’s more than welcome in such a formula concoction like this.
2 Guns is a perfect example of cinema generica. It’s not bad, but it feels so familiar and should probably be a whole lot better, considering the talent involved. It doesn’t strive for greatness; in fact, it’d be more than happy with OK-ness. I wouldn’t tell anybody not to see it; if you’re looking for something to pass the time for a couple of hours, you could do a lot worse (see my previous post.) But a studio like Universal, with all of its resources, should strive for something better than some made-for-basic-cable television movie you’d see on a Saturday night.Follow @filmbyfelix
It’s easy to see why people don’t like Michael Bay. If his movies are indeed a pure and honest representation of who he is as an artist, than he’s that stereotypical jock from that archetypal high school from that rich suburb; good-looking and popular, always got whatever car he wanted from his rich parents, borderline cretinous sense of humor, and a stunning lack of empathy.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Michael Bay. He does have talent. He has an eye, and his sense for visuals, though easily mocked (and it does get a little ridiculous occasionally, with his low-angled slo-mos, in particular) isn’t boring.
But what he lacks is taste, and that’s the downfall of his newest, Pain & Gain. This is the first movie he’s directed that wasn’t produced by either Jerry Bruckheimer (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys 2) or Steven Spielberg (The Island, Transformers 1, 2 and 3), and if you’re a filmmaker, those are two pretty powerful “parents” to have protecting you while you do your thing. But he’s going off on his own as a director for the first time and trying to do some more mature. And this true story of three bodybuilders involved with kidnapping and financial fraud and murder is a step up from robots beating each other up and a chance to sit and eat at the adult’s table.
If Bay wanted to take this material on dramatically, it could’ve been a dark, David Fincher-like look into the dark side of the American Dream. Or if he wanted to take it on satirically, it could’ve been a darkly Coen-esque comedy and reveled in the stupidity and absurdity of the situation. And the actors chosen for Bay’s movie (Mark Walhberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shaloub and Ed Harris) would probably acquit themselves well in any version; they all find the right notes to play and do a fabulous job. But Michael Bay decided that this story and all of the violent and tragic consequences that arise are, well, COOL!
Torturing a guy by tying him upside down to one of those overhead rails that dry cleaners use? Cool! Grilling the amputated hands of the people you’ve accidentally killed in order to remove the fingerprints? Hell yeah! Giving a dog a big toe that’s been shot off and letting him run around with it in his mouth? Perhaps this is Bay’s homage to Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, but that’s probably not what he was after… he just thought it was FRIGGIN’ COOL!
If you’re going to do material based on a real event, regardless of how ridiculous it may be, you have to show at least a modicum of respect, especially if people died. Here is an event where, with the exception of the retired private investigator played by Ed Harris, everybody involved, from perp to victim, was pretty loathsome. And perhaps that justified Bay’s decision to play this movie as a straight comedy. But as the violence becomes more prolific and brutal as the movie goes on, and Bay’s lack of interest in any of these characters as people becomes more and more apparent, it just becomes a really ugly chore to sit through. And until Michael Bay develops a little more interest into why crazy stuff happens and quits overblowing the how, he’ll always be at the kids table with his rock em’, sock em’ robots.Follow @filmbyfelix