A few weeks ago, my review of Red 2 suggested a flawed film can make enough good decisions in the short term to overcome its big picture disabilities. The film 2 Guns presents the flipside of that coin: a film for whom every interesting idea, snippet of dialogue or action sequence is matched by three that exasperate or bore, a film that substitutes escalating hats for escalating stakes. (The millinery involved in this movie supplied them with enough straw hats, fedoras and the like to fill a Tom Waits concert.) 2 Guns asks above all else to think about how cool our main characters are instead of paying much attention to the plot developing around them. Opening on ‘Bobby Beans’ (Denzel Washington) and ‘Stig’ (Mark Wahlberg) arguing over what breakfast food to order and the proper tip to leave before they burn down the diner they’re residing in establishes the tone very quickly. There’s the modern malaise that is dialogued paced and delivered in the style of a joke without actually being a joke; there’s the needless stylistic flourishes (slow motion into a freeze frame on two dudes too cool to look at an explosion) and an immediate flashback to “Two Weeks Later” in its aftermath as though what we just witnessed was so magnetic and engrossing that the audience couldn’t possibly wait to see what led these two characters to whine about dollar pancakes and start a grease fire.
It is fun to see this looser side of Denzel. He’s a genuine movie star, so allowing him to sink his teeth into pulpier material should be something to celebrate, instead of leaving us wondering what he saw in the source material. His chemistry with Wahlberg is sufficient, and I would definitely lay down money to see these two actors shoot a bunch of people under different circumstances, but they’re let down by a screenplay that gives them very few memorable interactions (a combination car chase/scuffle between the two is the highlight of the film, but prove only a duck pond of visual/verbal wit lost in a sea of clunkers). Edward James Olmos, Paula Patton, James Marsden and Bill Paxton all seem to be coasting on the sympathy/menace that we normally associate with their character archetypes instead of giving us sufficient motivation to feel genuinely towards them.
This may be a byproduct of the endlessly twisting plot, where Stig and Bobby Beans aim to overthrow a local bank without either realizing they’re both deep undercover; Stig for the US Navy and Bobby for the DEA. What they assumed would be a few million dollars belonging to Olmos’ evil drug dealer ends up being a whopping $43 million, belonging to the mysterious and mustachioed Earl (Bill Paxton). Thus the plot is set into motion with everyone scrambling to figure out who’s working for whom and where the money is located leaving us behind to determine whether or not any of this is interesting enough to give a fig about.
It isn’t. The film makes a late-game decision to finally try and bring some sense of personal investment in what’s happening to its main characters, but it’s too late for that. The attempt at gravitas is especially curious during the absurdly dull final shootout where (SPOILERS) the bad guys are dispatched with a sociopathic level of disinterest, suggesting whatever personal slights they inflicted on our main characters weren’t enough to stop them from treasuring being cool and flippant over angry and motivated.
I thought this faux-cool celebration of violent capers had gone out of style; the cinematic highway is littered with the immolated chassis of many a Tarantino-ripoff that wished to ape his style without understanding the substance, but 2 Guns (title never explained) proves to be a throwback that should’ve remained thrown back.