Goddammit. Is just everything an adaptation of a comic book? The next thing I know, I'm going to be sitting in a new version of Pride and Prejudice, and the credits will come up "based on the graphic novel by Jane Austen". Presumably with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor, since being dead's not much of an obstacle to that kind of thing.
At one level, 2 Guns is older than I am, since I can't remember a time when they weren't making movies where two mismatched protagonists would get together and ... fight crime. At another, it's new, since we're living through a revival of the things which seemed fresh back when everything seemed fresh to people now my age. Based on the demographics of the Hidden City fleapit this evening, the studio's gamble may be paying off; I was the only person in the place who'd even been born when this stuff was last fresh, and so for all those kids it probably WAS fresh.
It's a dumb movie which has to trade on the charms of its leads (who are more or less the only people with speaking parts who get out of the movie alive) and a deliberately tricky narrative structure in the first twenty minutes which keeps switching back and forth in time so as to make the motivations of Denzel and Marky Mark more cloudy. You see, they seem at first to be petty criminals trying to rub by on the Texas Mexico border, but then we see that Denzel is an undercover DEA agent - and then <shocker> Marky Mark is undercover Naval Intelligence </shocker> (somehow, of all the things I've pondered when I've thought about Texas, its coastline never prompted me to wonder about its navy, but never mind). So there you are; two undercover agents, trying to set each other up, neither realising the other's secret identity. What a twist, huh? You can see how you'd sidle up on a thing like that, letting it slowly dawn on the audience. Or, you could do this. Guys, as long as you were going to tell everyone the whole plot in the trailer, why bother with the misdirection?
Anyhow, Denzel and Marky Mark eventually kill everyone which the baddies haven't already killed, and ride off into the sunset together, presumably to take up a life of crime, since they've straight up murdered anyone who could conceivably exonerate them from all the crimes they started out the movie being framed for, not to mention all the crimes they actually committed. And the cast needed quite a bit of killing; I haven't seen such a bunch of irredeemable oxygen thieves since the glory days of Walter Hill movies. Many of the cast probably got killed in their youth in those very same movies. It was a regular Oh look! festival. Edward James Olmos, back playing Mexican drug lords when he'd been doing so well in Battlestar Galactica. Bill Paxton, for once only doing the jerk part of his craven jerk schtick. Fred Ward, who used to lead in those kind of B movies (and is by far the best bit of Tremors and Miami Blues) now relegated to playing the authority figure who turns out to be even worse than the bad guys. Robert John Burke - well, except for The Unbelievable Truth he's spent pretty much his whole life on one side of the law or the other (including a spell as Robocop, as if it mattered by that stage in the franchise).
Honestly, it's kind of fine. Denzel and Marky Mark are good together and even on their own they're dependable actors, so it's not like the movie is actively terrible while they're centre screen. The back-and-forth between them, which is the heart of all these dumb buddy movies, feels grounded, and some of it is even funny. The action scenes were visibly shot to a budget (never more so than one sad helicopter all on its lonesome at the end), but most of the time less is more for that stuff anyhow (there's a clever running gag where the lights keep going out during an interrogation; cost nothing, but got a lot done).
It's still a bad movie, like a lot of other bad movies, and it's a bad because of the message it's sending. Like so many other buddy cop movies, the tale unfolds in the Hollywood world where no-one can be trusted and the government least of all. Everyone is lying to everyone else, and everyone's on the take. Denzel and Marky Mark rob a bank, each thinking that they're setting up the other for a fall which will lead to evidence that will bring down a drug lord. Instead they've accidentally cleaned out a CIA slush fund, and find themselves on the run from their own bosses, the Mexican mob, and Bill Paxton's horrible CIA fixer. Everyone's a complete dick, and most of them get schwacked for their pains.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating; this recurring Hollywood mindset is some of the most evil propaganda I've ever seen. It's ingenious, but it's terrible. It works at so many different levels. On the one hand, it props up the capitalist notion that government is just inherently bad, thus bolstering big business's underlying agenda of ensuring that the general population will hate the government and collude in tax breaks and corporate welfare for the Walmarts of this world. At a slightly more subtle level, it makes it look as though the US is a democracy in which people can freely criticise the ruling structures without fear of consequences; but what's actually happening is much more clever; they're creating a world in which people think that the only place the government behaves like criminals is the movies, freeing them up to behave like criminals in real life because no-one thinks it actually happens that way outside the movies.
And if I could ask for just one thing to be retired, even if we can't fix the rest of what's broken in the world, can we put an end to the tired convention of the heroes happening upon the baddie-in-chief breathing his last, whereupon his hand twitches towards a weapon and they blast the last of his soul out of him? Just once, can they either murder him honestly out of spite or just walk away to let him choke on his own blood?