The Circle

Release: Friday, April 28, 2017

→Theater

Written by: James Ponsoldt; Dave Eggers

Directed by: James Ponsoldt 

I don’t know if “knowing everything is better” but I do know that The Circle is an experience I need not have again. I wish I never even had it. A parable about the dangers of being too plugged in to the digital world does little to justify both your time and its high-profile, talented cast.

Director James Ponsoldt, known for his sensitive character studies like The End of the Tour and The Spectacular Now, adapts the 2013 Dave Eggers novel of the same name. Seemingly having little faith in the material itself he overhauls what could have been another indie sleeper hit with a one-sheet of Hollywood names guaranteed to create a box office draw. (He wasn’t wrong; rather than bombing, his latest has gone on to become his highest-grossing effort internationally.)

Emma Watson stars as Mae Holland, a young go-getter who lands an entry job with a powerful tech conglomerate known as The Circle, run by the visionary Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks in a Mark Zuckerbergian capacity). The film traces Mae’s rise to prominence as she goes from Customer Service representative to the first Circler to go “fully transparent” — wearable cameras giving her followers access to her every waking moment. In the process it asks us where we draw the line between virtual popularity and physical privacy.

At the Circle, a Google-like campus where every amenity under the sun can be found, employees are encouraged to throw themselves headlong into their work. To get connected and not only stay engaged, but intensify that engagement in perpetuity. Everyone comes across passionate and friendly. Only the most motivated of millennials are able to thrive here. If you’ve ever seen a movie, you’ll see right through this front and recognize this idyllic community for the insidious, disingenuous construct that it is (a similar problem plagued Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness earlier this year).

Mae takes the job initially to help fund treatments for her father who suffers from multiple sclerosis (Bill Paxton in his final role) but it’s not long before that selfless nobility gives way to a more unhealthy obsession with her own status. Before she’s drunk on the same Kool Aid that all her colleagues have been binging on, most notably her obnoxious college friend (Karen Gillan) who helped her score that interview and with whom Mae’s inevitably thrust into direct competition. She soon realizes that the benefits of going transparent are too many to count, and wants her parents and even her friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), the latter notorious for staying off the grid, to adopt the technology and learn to become part of the Real World.

Mae’s meteoric rise is nurtured by Hanks’ unnaturally likable CEO, who sees great, scripted potential in his protégé. After catching her breaking the law via one of his recently installed SeeChange cameras — part of a new initiative to keep the entirety of humanity more accountable for their actions and behavior — Bailey decides to give her an opportunity to become her best self. Meanwhile, comedian Patton Oswalt is stuck delivering some spiel about how none of this will manifest as one giant middle finger in the face of national and international privacy rights. Like everyone else, he’s unconvincing.

The movie from here becomes such that I really wish Hanks had just fired Watson. The movie wouldn’t have made much sense but, critically, it would have been over sooner. Declining to actually do the unpleasantries is such a Tom Hanks thing to do, and he can’t even make reading the riot act to a disobedient employee an uncomfortable experience. He’s badly miscast, though no one in this movie comes out smelling like a rose. I think it’s this fact, how even Forrest Gump has been set up to look like a dope, that makes me more mad at The Circle than its obnoxious air of superiority or the way it turns relevant social commentary into a boring, predictable and downright condescending lecture.

Recommendation: On the grounds that this is the last movie featuring the great Bill Paxton, it pains me to tell people to avoid the movie. But avoid it. Avoid it like political commentary on social media. Avoid it like the comments section underneath actors’ profiles whenever they make a statement about something other than their chosen professions. Avoid it like you would avoid anyone who tells you they’re still active on MySpace. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 110 mins.

Quoted: “We’re so f**ked.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Titanic (1997)

black_and_white_sailboat_on_a_lake_0515-0909-2901-5443_SMU_Fotor

Welcome boys, girls. . . . and all others, to another sappy, tear-filled romantic edition of Throwback Thursday. (I know, gross, right?) The whole idea behind today’s post is about being subtle. . . . . . as subtle as a 40-foot-tall iceberg protruding from the chilly North Atlantic water. As subtle as that scene where Jack paints a picture of Rose. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I know all of you are just chomping at the bit to read something mushy and heartrending. (I know I am!) Well, you certainly get it here in James Cameron’s preposterously successful, epically-imagined, prodigious smash-hit, a.k.a.

Today’s food for thought: Titanic.

titanic-movie-poster

Getting that sinking feeling since: December 19, 1997

[VHS]

Like an aftershock ripping through L.A. the power of James Cameron’s great water-bound tragedy strikes me today with a force seemingly laying dormant since my first viewing. When I was a wee lad and watching this gigantic mess unfold for the first time (‘mess,’ in this case being a huge compliment) I am pretty sure I hated Titanic for its prioritizing of love over visual spectacle. I wasn’t into critiquing movies of course but I already resented Cameron for turning what I saw as a simple disaster film into a needlessly saccharine romantic epic.

Ah, behold this wonderful thing called hindsight. I would never have described the whirlwind courtship between Jack Dawson (Leo) and Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) then as genuine, truly tragic, or even ‘good;’ before puberty hit me like a ton of bricks I was frequently annoyed by sappy stuff on TV and in films and would just as quickly dismiss the love angle as stupid and pointless as I would the overall experience as a waste of my time as well as of its own potential. Looking back, that’s just too dismissive. I realize now that the only valid argument I do have against this iconic work has everything to do with the movie running over three freaking hours long. It was one of the first films I was aware of actually having its own intermission. (There’s a throwback for you.)

Silly little Tom — Titanic wasn’t a movie; it was an experience. Accidentally or not, it burgeoned into an industry unto itself. Back in the day you couldn’t hold a conversation without being obligated to eventually talk Titanic. Those who were opposed, either ideologically or merely put off by its overwhelming popularity, seemingly had more on their minds than those who went with the explicit purpose of getting their Romeo and Juliet fix. Simultaneously one of the highest-grossing films of all time (adjusting for inflation, it ranks fifth behind cinematic trivialities like Gone with the Wind and Star Wars), and doing battle with William Wyler’s Ben Hur as one of the most Oscar-friendly films ever made, taking home 11 of its 14 potential golden statues, Titanic granted its Captain passage into the theretofore uncharted waters of the billion-dollar club in terms of worldwide gross. Statistics sort of speak for themselves though, so what about the emotional state it left us all in? (Now I can say ‘us’ because I too am a believer.)

I’m only now coming around to accepting that what the young starlets accomplished was indeed a good thing for this world, and I can’t imagine what it was like for the ’90s teens swept up in their own fantasies of being with the then-Hollywood heartthrob in those frigid North Atlantic waters. How they would gladly take his place in the water. Or at the very least, help him climb on to the door (come on, that thing is not going to go under with two small people on it). I can time and again look to Titanic for a number of examples that support the cliché how it may indeed be unhealthy to take one’s entertainment so seriously.

When you have Celine Dion belting out a tune at a wine glass-shattering pitch I guess I shouldn’t be taken aback by the phenomenon of entire blogs being devoted to Jack and Rose. Is there any more damning evidence of me softening in my late 20’s than the fact that her voice, those lyrics, rather than annoying me actually haunt me? There’s (and yes, I’m going to say it) something epic about her song, some part of it that has never quite left my body since I first heard it as that wee lad. I can’t recite much beyond the chorus, but seriously — why does that matter? It’s impressive that after all of this time passed, there are elements and aspects to Titanic that I’m finding more and more intriguing, and more crucial to the general health of romance in contemporary film.

maxresdefault_Fotor_Fotor

There’s a reason the passionate romance outweighs the sinking of the ship. Jack and Rose living on in cinematic infamy, their reward for being so damn good-looking and inseparable. Superglue fails to provide the kind of bond that these two were able to form and in such a short amount of time. I suppose jealousy and envy could apply to me as a youngster when I watched these two steam up a car window and proceeded to fast-forward though this bullshit, though I think it’d be more accurate to say I just didn’t appreciate the gravity of this blossoming romance. Now, I can’t see another duo encapsulating, at the very least, the sheer joy of being young and carefree out on the open waters. No two performers would be Jack and Rose like Leo and Kate were Jack and Rose.

I’m not sure what you call it when a ship pulls a total 180 in the water and heads back in the opposite direction, but that’s exactly what has happened with my outlook on this voyage. There’s style and beautiful cinematography to ogle over, but these things I’ve never had an issue with. Titanic looks and feels classy in every way it possibly can. But today Cameron’s decision to place the star-crossed lovers front-and-center has finally struck me as not only appropriate, but creative. It’s the only way to bring millions of viewers on board the ship, as well as into the lives of many a doomed seafarer who had plans of arriving in the Big Apple.

titanic

4-0Recommendation: A tragedy of R.M.S. Titanic-proportions, James Cameron’s vision just has to be applauded. As if I need to endorse this thing. Seriously? Why is this the second film in a row here where I pretty much don’t need to write anything in this section? Actually, it’s kind of nice. I don’t have to do this extra work now. Cool.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 194 mins.

TBTrivia: After finding out that she had to be naked in front of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet decided to break the ice, and when they first met, she flashed him.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.dailyorange.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Nightcrawler

nightcrawler-1

Release: Friday, October 31, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Gilroy

Directed by: Dan Gilroy

For anyone reeling in nostalgia for the days of Donnie Darko, boy do I have some good news for you.

Jake Gyllenhaal is back and at least for the moment seems untouchable once more, playing the consummate weirdo very few of us are likely to be jealous of being incapable of mimicking. We are, however, gobsmacked by his talents again; in awe of a star’s willingness to go so far in the opposite direction of who they likely really are for the sake of seeking the truth in performance art.

Or, perhaps it’s not that big of a stretch. Maybe the male Gyllenhaal is naturally drawn to the darkness, as a fly to a light. This time he’s called upon by first-time director Dan Gilroy to don a façade whose ability to identify with humanity is often overridden by a need to separate from it. Self-sufficiency is the name of the game.

Meet Louis Bloom. He calls himself Lou, along with a number of other more professional and less personal adjectives. He’s first seen scouting a deserted construction site for some materials he will later try to sell back to the construction company for a small profit. The act functions as both microcosm — first he’ll try to take over a scrap yard and soon it will be the city — as well as a crucial first step towards chasing after much loftier ambitions. Audaciously he would go on to ask the man behind the desk about any available positions within the company, but the guy won’t hire a thief and so it is back to the drawing board for Lou.

It was probably for the better, anyway, as he soon encounters a television crew on the highway covering what appears to be a fatal car accident. It’s still early on in the film’s impossibly fluid two-hour runtime and we are getting to a place where we understand already subtlety is not a word in Lou’s vocabulary. He quickly makes his presence known at the scene and brushes up against Bill Paxton’s accomplished camera man to see if there’s any work for him with them. No, there’s not. But there is money in this racket, he’s told.

Lou quickly gets his hands on a cheap camera and he even hires a staff. . . .of one. He comes into contact with a slightly scruffy-looking man from the streets, a young fellow named Rick (Riz Ahmed) whose wide-eyed naivety and desperation for work makes Lou’s goal-setting seem an impossible quest for wealth and popularity rather than an act manifested out of necessity. Make no mistake, one certainly seems more desperate than the other.

They may seem an odd-couple like any other you’ve seen before, though the tandem quickly come to epitomize the term ‘nightcrawlers’ — workers looking for the good money by filming the stuff that makes early morning news — bloody and if possible, fatal vehicular accidents, home invasions, shootings, things like that — using any means necessary. Stalking the night. Gyllenhaal’s mesmerizing work as a man who blurs the line between bystander and active participant in a crime scene is the butter to Gilroy’s toast. And his toast, of course, is a truly original and compelling screenplay that conjures up characters who live and breathe death and destruction for another paycheck.

Paired with focused and intense direction that often thrusts us into the middle of the street without any hope of knowing what’s to come next — this is a brilliantly unpredictable adventure even if the opening shots are more than foreboding — the story allows us to never entirely hate this character even if we know we are morally bankrupting ourselves by doing so. We are actually capable of something even sicker: understanding his motives. Even if we can’t rectify what gets sacrificed. Come the film’s bullet-riddled conclusion, we’ll see the genius in Gilroy’s creation in a new light.

Speaking of which, Nightcrawler is bathed in all kinds of beautiful lighting, despite its ostensibly exclusive nighttime setting. It has the feel of a noir but on a much grander, almost blockbuster scale. It’s a rare kind of film performance-wise as this is a role that may supersede the psychological perturbation of Donnie Darko. If I’m gushing over him, I should probably apologize, for there are others who turn in strong work as well. One of those is Rene Russo, playing the morning news director Nina, who strongly encourages Lou to pursue freelance journalism.

Nina’s a force to be reckoned with and operates within a very difficult realm, a gray area in which station ratings are directly related to how good the material is. (But be careful to not show viewers anything too graphic, they’ll be watching this stuff with their breakfast.) Never before has the media mantra “if it bleeds, it leads” been twisted to fulfill such a haunting cinematic vision. Also compelling is Riz Ahmed, Lou’s assistant, who is eager to get to work and earn some kind of wage for himself. He deftly conveys a nervous apprehension to the job being asked of him, while avoiding falling into the ‘sidekick’ trope. Paxton isn’t in it for very long but exists in the frame long enough to leave an impression.

Nightcrawler is, thanks to its performances and solid narrative pulse, one of the best movies of the year and another solid reminder that Oscars season is upon us. After experiencing one of the year’s most unforgettable characters, and if I am speaking honestly I am glad I made the money to buy this ticket.

nightcrawler-2

4-5Recommendation: It is hard to imagine anyone not getting sucked in by the curious trailers heralding a return to weirdness for Jake Gyllenhaal. How can anyone resist that soul-burning stare of his, sitting perched before a backdrop of the L.A. area bathed in sunset (or rise)? He is positively chilling in the role and 100% the reason you should see this film. And if the trailer isn’t quite enough to sell you, maybe the fact he was Donnie Darko will. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “My motto is, if you wanna win the lottery, you’ve gotta make the money to buy a ticket.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Twister (1996)

new-tbt-logo

So today the stars have aligned, and it being the tenth of the month both TBT and The Franco Files have merged on the same day! Given the performance I decided to highlight with July’s installment of TFF, and the fact it involves a pretty ridiculous tornado, I started thinking about movies featuring similarly whacky weather. Pretty hard to find the film that’s more consistently entertaining and taxing on the old bag of popcorn than this particularly thrilling rollicking through the midwestern plains in Jan DeBont’s adaptation of a screenplay penned by best-selling author Michael Crichton. 

Today’s food for thought: Twister

121461463648gtshk

Rockin’ Wakita since: May 10, 1996

[Theater]

I can’t really justify my great love for this special-effects driven spectacular, or why I cherish it over other similar disaster action films. Actually, yes I can. I can back-up my love for Twister: it’s supremely fun, at times even scary. . .even to this day. You can’t tell me you don’t go at least a little white-knuckle during the destruction of the drive-in theater. So, really, it’s the whole having to explain why this particular, generic story does it for me more than others. There’s a legion of other similar films that have tried to mimic the scale of Jan de Bont’s adventure, and there are about ten times as many films that fall under the umbrella of cheesy disaster films — most of which are relegated to the Sci-Fy channel.

So, what was it?

Was it the air-born cow. . .or cows, plural? (How many of those fuckers were there flying around?) Or was it the rescuing of Aunt Meg (Lois Smith) after the same brute force that tore down the drive-in theater absolutely hammered the small town of Wakita? Might it have been a delightful turn from Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the free-spirited Dusty that piqued my curiosity so? The general (albeit slightly stereotyped) enthusiasm shared amongst the entire storm chase team — the likes of which featured a couple on the cusp of divorce? Or could it have been the idea that this pair of unlikelies — Bill (Bill Paxton) and Jo (Helen Hunt) — managed to fend off their emotional storm enough to weather a summer of historically high tornadic activity in the midwest?

Twister 2

Wait. . .aren’t people supposed to be the ones doing the chasing?

Umm. . . how about all of the above? Toss some spices into the pot in the form of a killer rock-and-roll soundtrack, and what you have simmering on the cooker is a highly memorable action-packed summer film that simultaneously satiates the meteorology dork in me and satisfies my sweet tooth for visual spectacle (these renderings were pretty impressive for the time, you have to admit). Never mind the respect for science, as Crichton’s screenplay turns the wind phenomenon commonly known as a tornado (or ‘nader, depending on where you hail from. . .and yes, that was also a terrible pun) into a character in itself, presenting it as an increasingly intimidating force of nature the longer the movie endures.

Sure, Twister can’t help playing out on occasion like an amusement park ride, its narrative ultimately boiling down to a series of stops at various locations, all of which become sites of near-catastrophic failure as the team have multiple close encounters with some seriously high-speed winds. In the end, I’m not sure what other choices de Bont had in steering the audience through this chaotic summer period, one in which a fearless group of scientists competed with others to help provide safer precautions for people living directly in harm’s way. While the presence of so many tornados in such a short time span tended to strain credulity, the damage they subsequently caused hardly did. Neither did the harsh reality that served as the team’s motivation. Aunt Meg had a close call, but so many others, like Jo’s family, hadn’t been so lucky.

In the end, there’s very little to defend about this film as it pertains to memorable cinematic achievement. You know, excluding those eye-popping visuals. Apart from Hoffman’s ingratiating Dusty, characters don’t really leave lasting impressions; they weren’t designed to. But the film as a whole succeeded immensely, designed as a simple popcorn package meant to entertain and enthrall.

tumblr_ml6mntUd5w1rml3nvo2_1280

Jack Nicholson about to be. . .blown away. . .by this film’s special effects.

3-5Recommendation: Suckers for early films coated in special effects and well-versed in action set-pieces have this film in their collection, no doubt. It’s a must-have for anyone who’s fan enough to take the tour at Universal Studios of the reconstructed set of the drive-in. (Hint-hint, I took the tour at Universal Studios. . . 🙂 ) It’s also a classic for anyone seeking a nature-related, thrilling adventure from the ’90s.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

TBTrivia: As anyone knows, the tornadoes in this film generate quite the racket. To help create the cacophonous noise associated with these brutal winds, the filmmakers chose to incorporate a slowed-down audio recording of a camel moaning. Yes, that’s right. A camel moaning.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.drafthouse.com; http://www.imdb.com

Edge of Tomorrow

edge_of_tomorrow_ver11

Release: Friday, June 6, 2014

[Theater]

Pinch me, I must be dreaming (over and over again).

This cannot possibly be the summer blockbuster whose early previews seemed to indicate (perhaps warn us cynics of) the coming of merely yet another summer bust. From the outset the odds seemed stacked against this film, a sci fi romp whose gritty-gray trailers made the thing look less original than a robotic compulsion to try and be grimmer than the last doomsday flick.

For all intents and purposes, everyone’s favorite scientologist was poised to star in the Oblivion of 2014 — not exactly a death sentence for such an iconic career, but the deflating sounds of a balloon losing air are really becoming audible now. Even if this recent romp went belly-up for Tom Cruise, at least there would still be something to ogle at (or that’s what one tends to think whenever a woman is paired alongside Cruise, but then you meet Emily Blunt, and, well. She’s not that gal.) Breathtaking backdrops always do their best to compensate for whatever else of the movie audiences have a hard time taking seriously or even engaging in, be it the dialogue coming out of actors’ mouths or the script conveyed through their characters’ actions.

It seems as if Doug Liman’s the last man to receive the memo about the list of cliches Cruise’s career has been constructed out of. After mumbling “to hell with this,” he tossed the list out the metaphorical window and defiantly directed Edge of Tomorrow, a film about a group of worldwide soldiers uniting to save the world from total destruction. It’s a summer blockbuster film that is as far from average as you might get. As such, it is probably not possible for the Academy to even consider something as gigantic as a movie like this for any category — and truthfully, this isn’t quite that good — but this entry is just that one step closer. Action packed and perhaps stuffed even thicker with moments of refreshing and hilarious self-awareness, this epic adventure film about fighting for humanity’s right to live on is one of the biggest surprises of 2014.

Major William Cage (Cruise) may be the catalyst for filmgoers’ collective “oh my god, no way!” This is a role so unlike Cruise, a man whose honor, he feels, should be proven enough because he’s earned the high-ranking title of officer and whose contributions to the war should also be considered enough because he has a desk job and shiny cuff links. His whiny officer is given a major gut-check time when he’s brought before General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) and ordered to the front lines in the first wave of what appears to be humanity’s last stand against an alien creature — known as ‘the mimics’ — on the French beaches.

A parody of Saving Private Ryan this is not, but there are obvious references, and not to mention, it’s release date is more than convenient, coming on the 70th anniversary of the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy. The drama that unfolds, on a visual spectrum, reaches blindingly brilliant. This might even be a film that could properly support the 3-D technology, though that experience is less than necessary. A standard format will immerse most of the senses in the same compelling way. From the moment Cage’s mission officially gets underway as he plummets from a crashing aircraft, we are into the thick of it. He’s still trying to figure out who’s going to answer for this grave mistake of sending him into battle. We are trying to figure out how any of this can possibly work out for the better.

And so begins a beautiful relationship between Cruise and Edge of Tomorrow‘s global audience. What we don’t expect next is the very thing that is waiting around the corner for us. This is true of Cruise’s latest performance and of the script itself. A routine cycle of living for a few moments, quickly getting killed off and re-spawning once more doesn’t seem like a recipe for hilarity, and yet the writers have a field day with this. There’s even a joke or two about suicide somewhere along the way, and even these fail to register as offensive. Meanwhile, Cruise does his best to not break the fourth wall in any of his major fight scenes. Not once does he turn to the camera, hair blowing back epically in the wind of the destruction and loss of life around him, with the fortitude to whisper to us all (just once): “this is all a bit ridiculous, isn’t it?”

Unfortunately he never comes right out and says it but his performance, especially when measured up against a great dramatic turn from Emily Blunt, certainly is suggestive. Perhaps that’s more the work of brilliant writing from it’s four writers and direction from Liman. I don’t really care upon whom I should heap more praise, though; it’s the fact that the collective effort that went into this film — a film sitting smack-dab in the middle of the year, mind you — seems to have figured out a different policy for entertaining mass audiences. It neither panders to viewers nor does it have such a high-concept plot so as to come off condescending.

Fast-paced, funny and constantly engaging — not to mention, bolstered by some of the coolest aliens this side of Men in Black — Edge of Tomorrow is blockbuster filmmaking as it should be. The way the narrative develops is far from perfect, as the climactic final thirty minutes take to somewhat secure ground compared to the film’s refreshingly extemporaneous tone earlier on; however, I refer you to the previous line as to why slight slip-ups are not going to spell the end of the world.

emily-blunt-poed-at-tom-croooooze

3-5

Recommendation: Critics and audiences agree: Edge of Tomorrow surprised the shit out of us. This is a real treat. Again, it could be argued there has been too much anti-Tom Cruise/scientology sentiment going around that perhaps cast a very unfavorable light upon his newest outing. Or it could be I, personally, am just becoming very cynical the more movies I watch, and it very well could be that this was always going to be a great movie from the start. I would like to read the book now. Yes please.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “On your feet, maggot!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

2 Guns

101205_gal

Release: Thursday, August 1, 2013

[Theater]

Gleefully tongue-in-cheek, 2 Guns is a mostly-successful buddy-cop action film that delves into the heart of a Mexican drug cartel while revealing surprising truths about the clientele it conducts business with. One could sense the lack of seriousness a mile away with this film. Fortunately, though, one gets exactly what one expects (and pays for) in this humorous account of two crooked trigger fingers, played by Marky-Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington as they get caught between the cartel and several nefarious American government officials, including those within the Navy and the CIA.

Wahlberg’s Marcus “Stig” Stigman is a former Naval employee who went AWOL awhile back, and now finds himself “partnered” up alongside the smooth-talking, shady DEA agent Bobby Trench (Washington). The two make a satisfyingly comedic pair, and even when the events surrounding their story include plot holes and cliches galore, one cannot deny that the pairing of Wahlberg with Washington is the main reason you go to see this film from Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur.

The film, set ostensibly near the Mexican border, opens with the duo planning a bank heist in which they stand to gain something like $3 million in cash. The bank they plan to rob — Tres Cruces Savings & Loan — is situated across from a diner with apparently some of the best donuts you’ll ever eat. Or so Bobby thinks, anyway. However, when the act goes down after some editorial backtracking to bring us all up to speed on what has occurred over the week prior, the two walk away with a hell of a lot more than the $3 mil they were expecting. It turns out they become $43 million richer, but a hot-tempered, rough-and-tumble CIA agent named Earl (Bill Paxton) quickly catches on to the scent of these pseudo-expert bank robbers and soon starts blazing a trail to find them and, presumably, kill them.

One of the main issues with this film is the lack of seriousness in any and all aspects of it. Well, excluding the violence. There are certainly a few moments that are shocking and which don’t seem to fit the bill of a movie that tries to be more light-hearted than dramatic. It is a little difficult to buy into the fact that Stig and Bobby are this good when they shoot their mouths off at each other, as well as several more serious-looking Mexican drug dealers. Aside from Stig’s demonstration of his accuracy (by shooting the heads off of several partially-buried chickens in a backyard — all the while eating a plate of fried chicken, no less), and the same applying to Washington’s character in other contexts, this is a film that insists you wholeheartedly accept these characters based on the actors’ reputations alone. That’s all well and good, except for the final scene where they manage to avoid a torrential downpour of bullets. It’s perhaps one of the most egregious scenes of Hollywood magic, and would make Keanu Reeves in The Matrix look like a newbie in his bullet-dodging scene. Still, it’s best to accept things at face value here and leave it at that.

An appealing aspect of 2 Guns, which may be misconstrued by more bitter critics as being dumb or confusing, is the fact that identities are never really clear virtually until the very end. We are not even sure for half of the time whether Bobby and Stig are working together or working against each other. Their relationship is certainly one of love-hate — perhaps more of the former than of the latter — and is a real treat to watch unfold. The two prove here that they could carry at least another movie together — not a sequel as such, but I’d love to see them pair up again as the leads of a similarly toned movie. They are simply too much fun to watch, and again, this is in spite of the fact that their backdrop is extremely familiar and steeped in cliche.

Paxton makes for a suitably villainous and corrupt CIA agent whose only intent is to reclaim what’s his. Edward James Olmos plays the despicable drug lord Papi Greco; James Marsden as Naval Officer Quince as well as Fred Ward, as Admiral Tuwey, prove that not even the Navy is free of corruption. Unfortunately, by the time you get around to meeting the latter character, the whole business of literally everyone on screen being a crook has become old news and any credibility that was barely established at the beginning is more or less evaporated by the desert heat (and somewhat abecedarian writing). Even the enticing Deb (Paula Patton), the would-be girlfriend of Bobby, turns out to be nothing more than femme fatale. The double-crossing gets to be a little too much, admittedly, but it’s not quite enough to turn the movie from a ‘two guns up’, to ‘two guns down.’

An explosive finish predictably pits mob boss, American government officials (represented of course by Paxton, Marsden and a few others), and the two rogues in Bobby and Stig all together in the ultimate showdown where bullets fly, bodies drop, bulls run rampant and $43 million in cash erupts in one of the funniest “makin’ it rain” sequences I’ve seen in a while. As cliche as it is going to sound, Bobby and Stig indeed stumble off into the desert sunset together, and, well. . . that’s that.

On the whole, this movie is nothing special. It is boosted exponentially by the fun interplay between well-matched leads in Washington and Wahlberg, and although it may sound repetitive saying that, I honestly couldn’t get enough of it. To me, seeing them together was well worth the price of admission. The story line needs little to no explanation (other than a warning notice about all the confusing betrayals and such) since it’s so well-worn and not entirely thought out well. But it’s just enough to justify 2 Guns‘ existence. It may be surprising to think of the fact that this film will be far from anyone’s mind when it comes Oscar season when you consider the star talent on display, but it proves that you need more than just great actors elevating an average script to make a great movie. This one is purely for entertainment purposes only, and I’m quite alright with that.

2-guns-1

3-0Recommendation: Come in with low expectations and you’re sure to have a good time. It’s capably acted, decently paced although it plods around a bit in the middle, and the conclusion can be seen coming a mile away, but if all you’re looking for in a movie is a great escape from your real-life drama, be sure to check in on these guys’ movie life drama. I’m sure it’ll be worth it in the end. And honestly, who DOESN’T like Mark Wahlberg. . . ?

Rated: R

Running Time: 109 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com