erik lundegaard

2 Guns
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2 Guns (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

We’ll forgive a lot for chemistry, won’t we? We’ll forgive absurd plots and too many explosions and maybe bad dialogue. Well, no, not that, bad dialogue is unforgivable, but that’s a moot point anyway because this movie has good some dialogue, and, more to the point, it has great chemistry between its leads, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. They have rapport, and zip, and zing, and one wonders if it’s in the actors, or in the script, written by Blake Masters from the graphic novel by Steven Grant, or does the director Baltasar Kormákur, late of Iceland and “The Deep,” help bring it out, too? Or some combination of all five? Or more? We on the outside can only guess. Maybe they on the inside, too.

Written byBlake Masters
Directed byBaltasar Kormákur
StarringDenzel Washington
Mark Wahlberg
Paula Patton
Edward James Olmos

Whatever the answer is, Wahlberg is one of Denzel’s better partners in years. I’d say white partners but that’s almost redundant. Hollywood keeps teaming him with the latest dude: Ryan Reynolds and Chris Pine and Russell Crowe and Ethan Hawke and keep on going back, back, back. It’s as if no one thinks that Denzel can carry a movie on his own.

Meanwhile, Wahlberg may have found his niche. I still think he’s a dull leading man and a dull action figure. He’s built an empire on these things, so what do I know, but when he plays the silent leading man he brings nothing to the role for me, no intelligence, no smoulder, no force of his face. “You have to hold something back for pressure,” Robert Frost once said of poetry, and it’s true for our best action heroes, too, you sense something, and sometimes a world, behind their silence, and Wahlberg doesn’t really have that. Any pressure at all dissolves in blank stares and his soft, nice guy voice. But here? Asked to talk a mile a minute? He’s in his element.

A 1970s aesthetic

There’s a very 1970s aesthetic to “2 Guns,” a kind of Stealer’s Wheel vibe: clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you.

Bobby (Denzel), an undercover DEA agent, and Stig (Mark Wahlberg), an undercover Navy Intelligence officer, are our two guys stuck in the middle with each other. The various clowns and jokers include corrupt DEA agents, corrupt Navy Intelligence, a Mexican drug lord and the CIA. It gives us a kind of snapshot as to where we are now, culturally and politically. Our heroes are still basically cops—we haven’t retreated into the antihero aesthetic yet—but they’re ronin cops since the system itself is corrupt. It’s apparently how we feel these days. Or enough of us feel this way that Hollywood is comfortable making a movie on it. Below us? The bad guys? Yeah, they’re bad. Above us? The government agencies policing the bad guys? You can’t trust them, either. So here we are, stuck in the middle with each other.

The fun begins almost immediately as Bobby and Stig arrive in a sleepy Texas bordertown, Bobby checks out the bank across the way, Tres Cruces (Three Crosses), and Stig slips into Maybelle’s Diner to order some breakfast. When they get together—by phone or in person—they disagree on everything: what to eat, what to tip, what Stig is doing winking at the waitress. Then they start a fire and blow up the joint. Why? “Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Never rob a bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties?’” Bobby says to Stig. Stig thinks he’s joking but the line is repeated later in the movie by another character, so it’s a thing, at least a thing in this movie, and that’s why our heroes remove the diner: so they can come back and rob the bank.

What’s the purpose of the bank robbery again? The plot is already convoluted. I think they’re trying to get at the money of Mexican drug lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), who, they know, brings money to this bank daily. They think they’re going to get $3 million or so. Instead they get $43 million. Or as Earl (Bill Paxton), a rogue CIA agent keeps saying, “$43.125 million.” He ain’t letting go of that point-one-two-five. It almost has more meaning for him than the forty-three.

But it turns out Papi Greco doesn’t bank at Tres Cruces; the drug lord is simply making payments to the CIA. Elements at the DEA and Navy Intelligence, including Bobby’s ex, Deb (Paula Patton, still yowsah), and Stig’s superior Quince (James Marsden, still denied leading-man status), learn this, and that’s why Bobby and Stig are directed to rob the place. The DEA is supposed to stop the robbery but they never show. Afterwards, Stig is ordered to kill Bobby but simply wounds him and leaves him in the desert with a bottle of water. Everything comes undone.

When Wahlberg and Washington separate, things get dull—although Paxton is pure joy here. Later, things get convoluted and silly and unbelievable. Our guys torture Papi, then are tortured themselves by same, yet somehow survive and are sent on a mission for the $43 million and .... All the while, they never lose their glibness, their banter, even when hanging upside-down with a bull bearing down upon them. A Naval base is broken into, we get explosions, then more explosions, then the final Mexican standoff in ... where else? ... Mexico. Yawn.

A Tarantino aesthetic

Does the movie owe Quentin Tarantino a residual check? There’s a lot of him here. It has good dialogue, shoot-outs, Mexican standoffs. Not to mention arguing about the size of tips in diners before pulling a robbery. So maybe the movie has an early ’90s aesthetic. Except Tarantino’s aesthetic was always ’70s movies.

Here’s a sample of that dialogue I’ve been talking about. Bobby and Stig are awaiting their fate before Papi:

Stig: I told you I didn’t like [Pam], man.
Bobby: Shut up.
Stig: What are you getting mad at me for?
Bobby: Because you talk too much.
Stig: What did I ever do to you?
Bobby: Besides shoot me?
Stig: You—you know what you are? You’re a misanthorp.
Bobby: Misanthrope. I’m a misanthrope.
Stig: Did you know what I meant to say?
Bobby: No, what did you mean to say?
Stig: That you don’t like people.
Bobby: Shut up.

That crackles. Denzel and Wahlberg make it work.

There are other things to like. When they’ve captured Papi Greco and are about to waterboard him in Pam’s garage, the light, on a timer, keeps going out, and they have to wave their arms to get it going again. When Bobby is in the desert, he runs into some citizen border-patrol yahoos who demand to see his papers because they don’t want any Muslims entering the country. After he takes away their gun, he tells them, “As-salamu alaykum.” I like that. It’s an indication that there’s a non-corporate intelligence behind the movie.

Then we get lost in the absurd plot contrivances and corporate explosions. Too bad Hollywood doesn't realize that the best chemistry doesn’t lead to explosions. As-salamu alaykum.

—August 4, 2013

© 2013 Erik Lundegaard

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