It’s been a mixed year for action movies so far, with both extreme highs and lows. Our beloved 80s icons have struggled at the box office, outside of the comforting arms of The Expendables franchise, with Arnie’s The Last Stand critically astride of Stallone’s moderately engaging throwback, Bullet To The Head, and both films ranking leagues above the execrable A Good Day To Die Hard.
Thankfully, the neck-cracking glory of Gerard Butler in Olympus Has Fallen proved that old school brutality and one-liners could still make for fantastic entertainment, and it’s alongside that film that 2 Guns deserves to stand. If Olympus Has Fallen gave a new generation a taste of Die Hard, then 2 Guns delivers one of the best buddy cop movies since Lethal Weapon.
I appreciate that’s no small amount of praise, but for an action fanatic like myself, it was a delight to see such an immaculately made, exciting and incredibly funny movie that barely puts a foot wrong. The buddy cop genre hasn’t had much to shout about since the early 90s, when the Lethal Weapon series had already peaked and Shane Black penned The Last Boy Scout, so 2 Guns is a welcome and much needed return to form.
The formula for a successful action movie should be fairly straightforward – put good, preferably witty people in peril, stack the odds and numbers against them and watch until they prevail – yet more often than not, Hollywood fails to execute the concept well. 2 Guns not only nails the formula, but it also understands how essential the core dynamic of its cast is and how important sharp dialogue is to the genre.
Within minutes of its opening sequence, there’s an effortless rapport between Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, as they throw exchanges about that made me laugh louder and harder than most comedies, with lines as acerbic and quick as the glory days of early Tarantino. (This isn’t to dismiss the likes of Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds, both superb movies, but their period trappings have less in common with the crime scenarios in 2 Guns.)
Denzel Washington is simply one of the best actors around, and he seldom puts a foot wrong when it comes to his movie choices – even his less critically acclaimed films such as Unstoppable and Déjà Vu are still cracking entertainment. In 2 Guns, he gets to play the duality of both a bad-ass DEA agent and a gold-toothed drug dealer, bringing his charm and charisma to each, and clearly relishing both sides of his character. I always feel there’s a certain redundancy to pointing out how great Washington is though, as it borders on stating the obvious.
Mark Wahlberg I have a slightly controversial attachment to, whereby the films I like him most in are either underappreciated (The Corruptor, Four Brothers, Three Kings), or shunned by most of society (The Happening, Planet Of The Apes, Max Payne) whereas his more dramatic and successful roles in, say, The Departed leave me cold. Either way, his comedy timing just seems to get stronger and stronger with both his cameo in Date Night and lead role in Ted being recent examples, and thankfully his ability is full exploited in 2 Guns, with the physical side of hist character strengthening the sheer amount of laughs he gets, making for a perfect combination – a bout of chicken shooting being a particularly great example.
Together, Washington and Wahlberg are simply sublime in a pairing that I could never have predicted would work so well. It speaks volumes for the screenplay by Blake Masters, who makes his feature debut, that even the funnier parts seen in the trailer were even more hysterical in the context of the film. It’s also surprising that 2 Guns rarely drops momentum, with barely a second wasted on unnecessary padding and each scene bolstered by at least one member of its large and uniformly excellent supporting cast.
To say I was excited about seeing Bill Paxton back on the big screen would be a rather large understatement, though I had concerns that his character might only have a small role and one which, going by his mortality rate in other films, would result in an early demise. Fantastically, this isn’t the case, and I can’t quite find the words to describe how glorious it is to see him face off against Washington in a game of testicle roulette, which I’m sure will result in many a breathless leg crossing from male members of the audience. I won’t go into any other of Paxton’s character traits here though, for fear of spoiling the surprise, but I can say that his moustache is glorious.
Elsewhere in the cast, you can find the mighty Edward James Olmos (whose character Papi is described beautifully by Wahlberg’s Stig in a line that has ‘instant classic’ written all over it), the always excellent and underappreciated duo of James Marsden and Robert John Burke (who I couldn’t be happier to see back on my action radar again after Safe) and even Fred Ward.
Despite putting in a great performance, Denzel Washington stalker Paula Patton (who also appeared alongside him in Déjà Vu) doesn’t have as much to work with in terms of her role for my liking, as despite being a DEA agent, she has little action, and gets the unenviable task of playing a straight role, though her disdain when denying yoghurts works beautifully. For the more hot blooded viewers though, she does also keep to the very 80s tradition of, how shall I put it, Rika Van Den Haas-ing, which is certain to have an impact.
Still, any slight quibble I have with 2 Guns falls into the minor category, and director Baltasar Kormákur deserves credit for putting together a film that manages to both stick to some classic genre conventions, while feeling utterly fresh and original. Kormákur takes influences from old gangster movies, to westerns and combines them into a beautifully shot and crafted movie – you’ll find no shaky-cam here, and it’s noticeable by its absence in the best way.
Even the score by Clinton Shorter manages to evoke just the right amount of nostalgia and invention, providing a jangling soundtrack of guitars and orchestral power that give the film an unswerving sense of cool, in much the same way as David Holmes has done for Steven Soderbergh over the years.
I’m already excited about the home release, just so I can watch it back to back with Christopher McQuarrie’s little-mentioned gem, The Way Of The Gun, as it shares that movie’s deviant sense of humour, explosive brutality and razor sharp dialogue.
Simply put, 2 Guns is a blast.
2 Guns is out in UK cinemas on the 16th August.
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