Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jim's Movie Reviews: 2 Guns

Director Baltasar Kormakur's second major studio release featuring Mark Wahlberg,  2 Guns, opened last Friday and proceeded to secure the number one spot at the box office, albeit for a relatively slow weekend.  Based on the Boom! Studios graphic novels by Steven Grant (which I have not read, yet), the film is the latest in a long list of comics adaptations in recent memory, yet seems to tread territory more familiar to the action films of the 80's than the tights and capes films of the last decade.

When I bought my ticket, I was looking for lite action fare, but with comics personality and panache.  The action movie genre as a whole, in my humble opinion, has been taking itself entirely too seriously lately, and the previews seemed to indicate a lighter treatment of the buddy cop motif, which looked to be something I'd enjoy.

The film concerns the exploits of two secretive "good guys", Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) and Mike Stigman (Mark Wahlberg), each working undercover for a different entity, and each unaware of the other's true disposition.   What starts as a bank robbery caper quickly turns into a sort of ground war between various factions, including a number of corrupt government agencies (5, maybe  6?), drug cartels, and those working multiple angles.  Both characters begin the movie wholly convinced of the way things ought to work, and only by throwing out the rule book, so to speak, can they succeed.  

Let's get straight to it:

The Bad:  Personality the film has, in spades, although I hesitate to say what type:  It's all over the map.  The action is played too straight and certain dramatic moments are too intense to belong in a farce/parody, but the plot is simply too outlandish to belong in either straight-up action drama or even buddy cop territory.  The worst part is the way the film switches personality and tone from scene to scene:  There are about 6 intense gun battles, for example, that are played completely straight by the camera, the editing, and the direction, but these are predicated by grab-bag action movie plot devices that go to outlandish extremes and dialogue that's anything but serious. Seriously, every government agency mentioned in the movie, from the Border Patrol to the US Navy, the ATF, the DEA, the CIA, etc., is involved in drug smuggling, has its own Snidely Whiplash corrupt official, shadow organization and/or black ops hit-squad that initiates broad-daylight gun battles with impunity.   Sometimes, the movie seems to be heading for the dramatic intensity of something like Drive or Dog Day Afternoon, other times it seems to want a more comedic or stylized approach akin to a Troublemaker Studios effort, and yet other times, it feels like a shallow buddy cop flick similar in tone to (insert Eddie Murphy buddy cop movie here).  The trouble is, the style elements are so diluted by the schism that it's hard for the film to succeed in any one of its many aspects.  In this regard, Washington's Trench character is played a little too straight, and has some elements of plot attached that are a bit too dramatic to fit:  There are those moments where you know he's phoning in his typical Washington "seasoned rogue" gig you're likely used to from previous efforts.  He does have his moments, but he's out-shined by his counterpart in just about every scene (more on that below), and he is his most successful playing off Whalberg's superior lead.

The Good:  There are indeed some well-filmed action scenes in the movie, and there is a good amount of fun to be had if you check your mind at the door.  Whalberg seems to know exactly what to do with his character, who goes from doe-eyed believer in the system to "I don't give a shit" rogue during the course of the film. The character arcs are basically the same between the two main draws, in that fundamentally each hero must become their cover, and Whalberg's Stigman is the most apt, delivering one-liners and little personality ticks that get you believing early on that he is polarized along those lines, but could make the leap between wheelhouses easily. He gets the most entertaining of the two main sets of dialogue, and delivers every one-liner and insult to great effect.  My only complaint was that he didn't, or maybe wasn't allowed to, go farther with it.  If it were my film, I'd have written/directed his character as a straight SNL parody of himself, complete with "Do you like Entourage?" fourth-wall-breaking debasement, but that's just me.

The Conclusion:   This film would make a solid rental, good for a weekday night or a slow Saturday.  I don't know that the cinematography or action merits the big-screen treatment, and there's little else here to justify a "go buy a ticket" recommendation.  Perhaps for this last weekend and the next couple, it could scratch that itch for a movie buff that just has to have a movie to go to.

The Rating:  It's a 6 on a 10 scale for theater-viewing, but perhaps an 8 or a 9 as a rental.          

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