Sunday, August 4, 2013

Reviews: 2 Guns, The Canyons

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Baltasar Kormakur's "2 Guns" is a moderately amusing, but ultimately too familiar, type of buddy action movie that relies on the personalities of its stars to keep us amused between the various shootings, explosions and - in this case - target practice utilizing chickens. Don't ask.

In the film, Denzel Washington plays Robert Trench, a DEA agent, and Mark Wahlberg is Michael Stigman, a naval intelligence officer, who attempt to take down a Mexican cartel, a group of corrupt military officials and some crooked CIA operatives. The catch is that neither of them know - at first, at least - that the other is undercover, assuming each other to be a criminal of some sort.

Both Washington and Wahlberg have screen presence to spare, which makes the endless number of double crosses from supporting players, violent interludes (a head in a bag, several rounds of Russian roulette, the aforementioned fired upon chickens) and action set pieces more involving.

But "2 Guns" is pretty formulaic. There's nothing here you haven't seen before. If you're OK with that, you could do worse than this picture. If you're looking for something a little substantive, you'll most likely have to wait for fall.

It was only two weeks ago when I was sadly reflecting that Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives" was the biggest letdown from a director whose work I highly value in some time. This was, of course, before I saw "The Canyons."

The movie comes with some pedigree - it was directed by Paul Schrader and written by Bret Easton Ellis, so it's difficult to discern how such a massive flop could be produced by such talent.

The picture opens with shots of run-down, decaying movie palaces, leading me to believe Schrader was going to unspool some sort of "Last Picture Show" tale of bygone eras. At one point, Lindsay Lohan's character, who has some vague role in the film industry, questions a friend on whether she even likes movies and when the last time was that she saw one in a theater. And that's about it on that subject.

For the rest of the picture's mercifully short running time, we are treated to a series of twisted sexual trysts and mind games, during which porn star James Deen's sociopath producer Christian forces Lohan's Tara into three-ways, which he films, and then obsessively has her followed to determine whether she is cheating with Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk), the leading man in a picture produced by Christian who looks like he stepped straight off the Bret Easton Ellis assembly line.

The dialogue is often stilted and the readings are occasionally painful. Lohan speaks a number of her lines in mid-weep, while Deen mostly smirks, sneers and acts smug. There are several awkwardly written and performed scenes in which the apparently straight Ryan is sexually blackmailed by gay men, one a producer and another a hotel manager.

At one point, director Gus Van Sant pops up in a small performance as Christian's shrink and the sight of him is rewarding in that it's nice to see a friendly face amid all the cantankerousness.

Schrader has written some of the greatest screenplays of all time and he's often a terrific director. Ellis often aims to shock, but there's usually darkly humorous satire lurking below the surface. In the case of "The Canyons," most of the laughs are unfortunately unintentional.

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