2 Guns is a terrible name for a movie.
I would not normally open a review by making fun of the film’s title – I stopped caring about what most movies are called after realizing Hollywood had long since stopped any and all efforts to create quality titles – but in this case, doing so seems apropos for two reasons.
First: 2 Guns really is a spectacularly awful title. We are talking hall-of-fame levels of stupidity with a name like that. What does it even mean? A promise that, at minimum, the film has one pair of firearms to entice audiences? That when we see a gun in the movie, we can rest assured it will never feel lonely, because another gun will be in close proximity? Is it a high-concept sort of thing, wherein the main characters only have access to two guns to take down an entire criminal operation? Is it a wacky arthouse piece in which two firearms become sentient and search for the true meaning of life, the universe, and everything? Or is it merely another lame, slapdash marketing phrase flailing desperately to make this insipid buddy-cop action comedy stand out from the interminably large crowd of other insipid buddy-cop action comedies, and really only indicating that the two protagonists will each not only carry a weapon, but be defined by their proficiency with violence?
Really? That’s it? Gee, how original.
Second: The title is probably the best thing about this movie. And by best, I actually mean least excruciating.
Because here’s the thing: If you are dumb enough to title your Denzel Washington/Mark Wahlberg vehicle 2 Guns, your actual intention in doing so is probably to emphasize the core chemistry of the leads in a way that sounds fun, goofy, and frivolous. And even if the horrible title in no way succeeds in attracting me to the project, I would have no problem with a fun, goofy, frivolous action comedy in which Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, two immensely charismatic and entertaining performers, enjoy one another’s company while partaking in some carefree action heroics. That should, by all rights, be a good, amusing night at the movies.
But 2 Guns is not amusing. Nor is it in any way, shape, or form ‘fun.’ It is unpleasant, top to bottom, a lazy, tonally schizophrenic mess that gave me not an ounce of pleasure over what felt like a five-and-a-half hour runtime (I am told it actually runs 109 minutes, and my watch confirmed that when the lights finally came up, but I cannot for the life of me believe it is true). 2 Guns is ugly, sadistic, tone-deaf, and utterly uninvolving, an uncomfortably dark piece of violence porn masquerading as a witty buddy comedy, and I found just about every second I spent watching it to be absolutely excruciating.
I have written at length before about how much I hate writing bad reviews. That remains true. I love cinema, and am therefore sad when I see a bad movie, and oftentimes even more miserable when I have to dwell upon the experience in writing. But to quote an action movie cliché I am legitimately surprised 2 Guns never trotted out, I am going to do my best to enjoy this. 2 Guns hurt me, and I want to hurt it right back, here on my own critical turf. I am not going to do this as a traditional review. That would be letting the movie off too easy. No, this piece of garbage deserves something more befitting of its own general sadism, something more elaborate, resentful, and unbelievably petty.
It deserves a top 10 list.
So without further ado, here are the Top 10 Things I Hate Most About 2 Guns.*
*Arranged for dramatic effect, not in any meaningful order of hatred.
Continue reading on the next page…
10. God, that title sucks
We already went over this, but I just want to reiterate: 2 Guns is such a hilariously awful title that one has to wonder if it was all just some internal studio prank that wound up going way too far.
9. The plot makes literally no sense
I feel like this is the fourth or fifth time this year I have had to complain about action movies with overly complex stories, and it is one of the single oddest trends I have seen in Hollywood as of late. In a fun, guilt-free action movie, what is most important are the characters, humor, and set pieces, and arranging all those elements in a cohesive package that feels seamless and effortless is probably more challenging than most people realize. Accepting that, though, 2 Guns is the latest and most egregious example of a film completely overthinking its primary ambitions, constantly tripping over its own convoluted story as it exhibits tremendous difficulty relaxing into any semblance of character-based fun.
The film starts modestly enough, with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, two partners in crime, robbing a bank together. Then there are twenty minutes of flashbacks, explaining that, unbeknownst to the other, each is an undercover agent. Washington works for the DEA and is trying to take down a Mexican drug lord (the DEA would have no jurisdiction in Mexico, but…whatever), while Wahlberg is an NCIS officer doing…something. What his initial mission was never becomes entirely clear, but in any case, he wants to rob an American bank, supposedly to steal money the Mexican drug lord has stored there, and Washington goes along with it because it will somehow help his investigation (I would think stealing a drug lord’s money would run the criminal into hiding, or at least make him aware someone is on to him, but…whatever).
But when Washington and Wahlberg rob the bank, there is a lot more money in the safety deposit box vault than they anticipated – $43 million – and then the plot completely and totally falls apart. I’m serious. I cannot coherently relate to you just about anything that happens from that point on. Wahlberg shoots Washington as part of his orders, though what that master plan was never makes a lick of sense, and then Washington is framed for murder by a CIA agent (Bill Paxton) looking for the stolen money, and then Washington and Wahlberg start working together again to find the money, and then we discover the Navy set Wahlberg up and was trying to steal the money, and then we discover the money was the CIA’s, and then I throw up my hands in defeat because the whole thing is so unbelievably stupid.
Why would the CIA store $43 million of illicitly earned money in a bank? What would Navy intelligence gain by stealing the money? Why do they need to steal money at all? Why does the CIA have all this money in the first place? Where did it come from? What is it for? Do they not have their own funding streams? Why would they store it in a commercial bank? Why is the CIA involved in this at all, when they do not run operations on American soil? How the hell does the drug lord fit into this in a way that makes sense? For that matter, why was Washington ever working with Wahlberg in the first place, if all he was trying to do was catch a drug kingpin? Why do all these agencies magically have jurisdiction in Mexico?
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?
The sheer, incredulous complexity of the plotting is not only clunky and obnoxious, but it constantly distracts from what should be the primary appeal of the film: Watching Washington and Wahlberg interact. It actually takes a sizable chunk of time before they have scenes together with any regularity, and even then, the ridiculous plot machinations and overabundance of terrible characters further dilutes whatever chemistry they may have been able to exhibit under better circumstances.
But more on that later. We still have a lot of ground to cover.
Continue reading on the next page…
8. No, 2 Guns, you cannot make broad, ‘patriotic’ political statements while telling a story that simultaneously demonizes the CIA, NCIS, and DEA as irredeemably evil
As indicated by that confusing plot description above, 2 Guns paints American Intelligence agencies in about the most negative light possible. The entire Naval chain of command is either incompetent or corrupt, the DEA weak-willed and inept, and the CIA is not only wicked enough to store away millions and millions of illicitly-earned dollars, but will kill, maim, and torture people in order to get it back.
Now, I trust American government about as far as I can throw it at this point (that the film never touches upon the NSA is probably a mercy), but it is a pretty big leap to go from “American intelligence agencies are ineffectual and overreaching” to “Good God, our entire government is run by cartoon villains.” I cannot even understand the creative motivation behind this – there really is not anything fun about having the majority of the villains be American agents (or at least, no fun 2 Guns effectively exploits) – but I suspect that, under different circumstances wherein the film made no claims to meaningful reality, I would not mind this problem so much, and chalk it all up to the general sense of cartoonish wackiness on display.
But the problem is, 2 Guns actually does try to relate a ‘message’ in the midst of all this, and it comes across as unbelievably tin-eared. Wahlberg’s character, as a member of the Navy, makes on several occasions broad statements about what it means to be a Naval officer, the true nature of brotherhood, why people fight in the armed forces, etc. And I think they are all messages I could easily get behind if the plot was not actively demonizing the very entity he is talking about at every single turn. Every single one of these ‘message’ moments comes across as wildly disingenuous (and just a little bit offensive) when the movie spends its entire runtime pissing all over every military and intelligence agency it can think of, and Wahlberg and Washington themselves wind up killing a fairly large number of seemingly innocent soldiers. When the film cannot even pander to its audience effectively, something has gone dreadfully wrong.
7. That one stupid faux-cool guitar cue
I still cannot decide if this part of the movie is lazy and terrible, or somewhat commendably disengaged. Either way, composer Clinton Shorter saw fit to compose only a few extremely basic musical themes for the movie, and there is one in particular we hear so many times that it practically becomes a running joke. It is a simple, repetitive guitar cue, a filtered, staccato melody that attempts to sound ‘cool,’ but tries so hard it quickly becomes self parody. The film does such a poor job characterizing Washington or Wahlberg, or giving them interesting things to do, that it has to rely on the music to make them seem awesome, and by the time we get to the climax, and the guitar cue comes in for the 473rd time to underline how cool Denzel Washington is, I could not stop myself from laughing. It is either lazy, winkingly self-aware, or both, but no matter what, if you feel you need a guitar cue this cloying to make someone as awesome as Denzel Washington seem cool, you have wandered seriously astray.
Continue reading on the next page…
6. Every single extra looks like they being forced to act at gunpoint
Here is one of the weirder problems I have ever seen in a movie. How often do you actually notice background extras, the people who populate space to give a film an added sense of context and realism? Not ever, if the extras are doing their job well, because that is their function: They are extras, invisible, important only as scenery and background detail – and yet in 2 Guns, I found myself fascinated by just about every single extra on screen.
That is because all of them, every last one, looks like the set of 2 Guns is the last place on earth they would ever want to be. They do not just look uncomfortable, awkward, or screen-shy – they look practically scared, and their pained facial expressions and scrambling, clunky movements are impossible to miss. It is as if director Baltasar Kormakur instructed each and every extra to pretend they had just witnessed a terrible crime, and were now trying to return home safely. Uniformly, across the entire movie, the extras look like they want out, and fast. Perhaps it is easy to recognize because I, sitting in the audience, felt exactly the same way.
5. Bill Paxton made me want to kill myself
If this is an exaggeration, it is only a slight one, as every second Bill Paxton and his abominably wretched abortion of an antagonist spent on screen made me question the meaning, worth, and value of my own life. Words cannot do justice to how terrible this character is. Paxton plays the CIA agent out to find the stolen money, and while it is a fairly stock character on the surface – a comically over-the-top Sheriff archetype – the film is so incompetently written, and Paxton’s performance is pitched so broadly, that the character stumbles out of the gate as a major, excruciatingly obnoxious disaster.
My main question here is why on earth you would cast an actor as aggressively boring as Bill Paxton tends to be in a part that requires goofy, manic energy. This character would be unbearable regardless of who played him, but Paxton is just horrible, every one of his ‘funny’ notes ringing false, all his ‘creepy’ beats playing far too dark, and the overall effect coming across as unendurably annoying. I despise every single, solitary thing about this character and performance, and the worst part is that Paxton is only one of three irritating villains this pile of garbage has to offer.
Continue reading on the next page…
4. The film is grossly misogynistic
In a moment, we shall discuss what deep-seated tonal problems 2 Guns plays host to, and I suspect that, if the film had a vastly clearer sense of what it wanted to be, and was content with just having fun, I would not be nearly as turned off by the film’s treatment of women. A little objectification in a guy’s movie is par for the course, even if that is indicative of a much larger gender representation problem in the industry. But as it stands, so much of 2 Guns is so brutal, ugly, and unpleasant, that when I look at how the film constantly demonizes and devalues its female characters, it strikes me not as an attempt to have some mindless fun with sexuality, but as something truly, grossly misogynistic.
Every last woman that appears on screen is treated like a play toy, and object, an incredibly dumb, obviously inferior form of life that, as the film presents things, is naturally inferior to men. There is only one major female character – played, unfortunately, by Paula Patton, a very good actress who deserves much better – and all these things hold true for her as well, even if she is a DEA colleague of Washington’s. In addition to constant sexual shaming – the character is constantly made fun of at the outset for simply having a boyfriend, for instance – her one major scene opposite Wahlberg and Washington relegates her to the butt of the joke, allowing the two main character to crack lots of bad jokes at her expense. And then, when it is time for a traitor to be revealed, she is, of course, the turncoat. But not entirely, because she still has feelings for Washington and does not quite know what she wants or why she did anything in the first place. Because women are weak, apparently, and cannot make up their minds about anything – even when playing the part of the antagonist, the woman has to be inferior at that role to her male equivalents. Screw this movie.
3. The violence is not fun, but uncomfortably brutal
Now we get into perhaps the single biggest, most omnipresent issue: Tone. 2 Guns purports itself to be fun. It is not. It is unpleasant, because for every witty exchange between Wahlberg and Washington, we get an unbelievably sadistic speech from Paxton, a needlessly brutal or demented torture scene, or a random example of vicious physical harm, none of which is fun or entertaining in the slightest.
The number of torture scenes on display is kind of incredible. People are tortured with bats. People are tortured with the threat of live bulls. People are tortured not only with guns, but with mad CIA agents playing Russian Roulette. Our heroes even come close to waterboarding someone, not because it is in any way necessary, but because somebody, somewhere along the line thought a string of waterboarding jokes would be funny. Suffice it to say, they are not.
Look, I like goofy, mindless violence as much as the next guy, but having fun with violence and throwing out as many sadistic ideas as possible are two very different things. 2 Guns falls far on the wrong side of that line, and it is extremely tough to find anything Wahlberg and Washington say or do amusing when the majority of their ‘heroics’ consist of actions that, in most contexts, would be extremely disturbing.
Not that the attempts at amusement have any chance of succeeding in the first place though, because…
Continue reading on the next page…
2. ‘Banter’ is not automatically funny just because people talk fast and insult each other
There is more to making an audience laugh at two characters conversing than mountains of dialogue, broad attempts at cleverness, and rapid-fire speech patterns. 2 Guns wants to make us laugh and Wahlberg and Washington’s interactions, but the script has absolutely nothing to offer other than desperate, cloying attempts at ‘humor,’ usually involving one character insulting the other or swearing ‘creatively.’ And in an entertainment landscape where literally dozens of films and TV shows are built around ‘banter,’ you have to be better than this to leave an impression. Hell, you have to be better than this to not make me want to punch the screen in anger, because while good banter can be a lot of fun, bad banter is just painful to sit through. And the banter in 2 Guns is legitimately painful. I found not a single one of these jokes funny, and that is one hell of an accomplishment when you have actors as talented as Wahlberg and Washington delivering the material. They should be able to make something out of just about anything. Alas, they cannot, and that leads us to our last, and most pressing, issue.
Continue reading on the next page…
1. Washington and Wahlberg are both trying way, way too hard
What else can they do, in the midst of all this tedium? They are the center of the film, no matter how much crap has been piled around them, and the only avenue available to them, apart from checking out entirely, is trying desperately to make up for all the surrounding lack of effort. The end result is that both Washington and Wahlberg wind up giving performances that, while suitably charismatic, are also overbearing, uncomfortable, and often unappealing. It is not their fault. I think under better circumstances, these two might even have a shot at real, memorable chemistry. But as it stands, there is nothing of real entertainment value in either of their performances, separate or together, because they are each scrambling far too hard to make up for the wild number of cinematic deficiencies on display.
And that, I think, just about says it all – if you cannot have these two, great leads relaxed enough to have even a tiny bit of laid-back, naturalistic fun, then what on earth is the point? Why not just smash the camera with a hammer and deliver a series of blinking neon lights to the cineplex? There is literally no reason whatsoever to make or release a buddy-cop action vehicle so ridiculously incompetent that even depending on the skills of the two leads is not enough to entertain the viewer. No reason. 2 Guns is a complete and utter waste of the cinematic medium, and an aggressively repugnant waste of the audience’s time.