The absence of presence that is Idris Elba, who we’d like to like one day, stars in Beast, a Jurassic Park knock-off that pitches him against both his distant daughter and an excessively affectionate lion. It’s a film that Mike enjoyed unironically but can’t claim to find much quality in; José, showing off, provides a coherent response, seeing the film’s weaknesses and having no fun.
It’s a mechanical film in more ways than one. The character relationships crash inelegantly into place, the action hasn’t met an idea from a better film that it didn’t try to copy – and the seats share the load, tilting and rumbling along with the images. For reasons beyond our understanding, our local Cineworld offered Beast only in 4DX, the theme park-style augmented exhibition format that purports to enhance the cinematic experience through practical effects such as moving seats, wind, and strobe lighting. It’s a technology that José despises to its core, arguing that it betrays a lack of trust in the film’s own ability to excite its audience, while Mike, who is in his thirties, likes filling himself up with fizzy liquid and sugar and being shaken around all afternoon.
Still, no amount of physical animation can either distract from or add to the vacuum of cinematic substance that is Idris Elba, Beast‘s central problem and central lack. It makes for a film you won’t regret ignoring.
If film-going were still a simple leisure activity –easy, cheap, the kind of thing one did to while away a Saturday afternoon in between shopping; or as I did as a kid, the place you went to for a bit of fantasy and glamour whenever you felt like it — you’d walk in in the middle of the film and stay until the film re-started again and took you to where you came in; and then, if you liked it, you sat some more and saw it again — if film-going were still like that, rather than the expensive, troublesome, special event its become, then I’d recommend 2 Guns.
The film clearly set out to be an A-minus genre piece. You can imagine someone pitching the concept: a heist movie crossed with a buddy film but with a twist: the crooks who pull the job, Bobby(Denzel Washington) and Stig (Mark Wahlberg) are really DEA and Navy, and the money they steal is not the Mexican mob’s but the CIA’s.
In 2 Guns no one is who they claim or who they seem to be –Deb (Paula Patton), that beautiful girl Bobby meant to like is double-crossing him with Stig’s prettier boss, Quince (James Marsden). In fact everyone will double-cross everyone. Each betrayal allows the plot a shoot-out, a car chase or both. At the end, the two stars will walk arm-in-arm into the sunset but not before one shoots the other in the leg, partly to even out something that happened earlier but also to eliminate any funny ideas people might have.
I experienced the film as an enjoyable trifle: as befits a comic-book adaptation, it has a handsome, mindfully sparse look; the compositions of a noir but the colour palette of a comic book influenced by noir (browns, blacks, grainy bright yellows); it has Denzel Washington, the most charismatic of contemporary stars (of the other contenders, Will Smith tries too hard — you’re frightened he’ll hip-hop onto your living room ceiling if he got even the slightest whiff it might please you; and there’s something oleaginous and slightly dishonest about George Clooney’s charm – like he’s trying to trick you into liking the he that he is not).
It also has Mark Wahlberg, looking like an inflated galumph; as if he were an ordinary Joe trying to get fit but instead getting fat on the wrong protein shakes; but with those sad, knowing, little eyes of his telegraphing that he’s not as dumb as he sounds. His voice, gentle, low but thin, an expressive counterpoint to the power implied by his body, always hits the right note when he’s got a joke to put across.
Washington and Wahlberg, play off each other with rhythmic ease; they give and take on the lines, battle it out for the camera’s focus on the two-shots. You never get the sense they’re playing real people, they’re big stars trying to outdo each other and trying to entertain us; they’re both slightly past their prime physically which perhaps makes one even more aware of just how good they are and how rare their skill.
The film delivers on what the advertising promises. In fact it does better than that. Edward James Olmos is terrific as the Mexican gang-Lord: greying, measured, gravitas backed up by weaponry, and with principles, the only ones the film has on offer. Bill Patton is just as good, all southern charm laced with sadism. Lovely to see Fred Ward also, as the Admiral who plays by a set of rules different to Stig’s. And James Marsden seems to have found his calling as the bad guy. He’s the type of star who’s so good looking and so pleased with himself you always wish someone would smack him; when he plays the bad guy, somebody does! He should play bad guys more often.
As I was walking home after the movie, I thought, ‘it’s ok’; and then I began mulling on how interesting the film was ideologically; it criticizes all the institutions, CIA, DEA etc. It’s a corrupt world through and through; where the only relationships are instrumental, where people mean to love but end up betraying or marrying up and for money. The film’s message is clear: the only thing that matters is taking care of the guy next to you. Moreover, 2 Guns felt like the first of these interracial buddy films were race didn’t really seem to figure as an issue (compare to the 48hr films) and I don’t think it’s only because Bobby is white in the original comic book. Race is currently being re-signified in American cinema and this is a good example of how it’s happening. I haven’t quite worked through these ideological implications; I’m not even sure they’re worth working through; but by the time I’d got home the film seemed richer, more suggestive, at least worth a think.
And then, by the time I started writing this, I thought, people might not go to the pictures as they used to but maybe the way we consume films might not be that different: Pop the DVD in, see a bit of it, if you like it see it several times. And really, the real test is that unlike most films, some whom I initially thought more highly of, I would see 2 Guns again when it comes out on DVD: It looks good, moves well, the actions scenes are competent, and it delights with expertly exchanged banter, a few good jokes, and two stars showing each other and the audience why they’re stars. Moreover, the supporting cast is made-up of people who normally headline and are here at their best. Plus it seems to have interesting things to say. When did I get so picky?