I don't remember a movie ever making me feel as empty as 2 Guns made me feel.

Ever since Roger Ebert opened his review of Rob Reiner's North with "North is one of the most unpleasant, contrived, artificial, cloying experiences I've had at the movies," the Entertainingly Hateful Review has become a mainstay of internet film criticism. Critics compete to be the cleverest/hatingest/adjective-ing-est reviewer to dump on the culturally-sanctioned Bad Movie (Transformers or Battleship or Grown Ups 2). 2 Guns seems like a natural target.

But four days after seeing the film, any anger I could have towards 2 Guns has faded into . . . just emptiness, I think. I don't even really want to talk about the movie, because the movie isn't bad in a way that's fun to talk about. It's just aggressively shallow and transparently nihilistic. In 2 Guns, the abyss doesn't just stare back, but it tags along with you after you've quit staring. It is, form and content both, profoundly hollow. And not only does it advocate for almost universal meaninglessness, it seems to revel in it.

Image: Universal Pictures

Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, as dirty secret agents, collaborate to rob a bank at the behest of their respective authorities (and neither one knows the other one is affiliated with the U.S. government). But after their heist, they end up $39.125 million-ish dollars richer than they expected to be, which sets in motion what may be the most convoluted plot to plod across the big screen in years. The Navy is involved via Wahlberg, the DEA via Washington, and then appears the magnificent Bill Paxton as the regional director of the CIA. It's a convoluted mess of acronyms and plot twists that don't stop coming, and disentangling the narrative strands would take two thousand more words than I have.

So here's the movie's core problem: 2 Guns doesn't just show broken people, but seems to say that everything is broken; doesn't just insinuate that the government is corrupt, but that all authority exists to be mocked, shot at, and (at the end of the movie) mocked and shot at at the same time. The film is possibly the ur-Male Power Fantasy, as Washington and Wahlberg eliminate everybody who could possibly give them orders.

(Warning: From here on, there are a few plot spoilers.)

Wahlberg's trademark move is excessive winking at women (and occasionally men), a process he calls "Making someone his b-tch." The first shot of Washington's ex-girlfriend (with whom he's still sleeping) Paula Patton is an establishing shot of her breasts that pans up to reveal her face as she climbs on top of Washington, a scene that's maybe a perfect encapsulation of how the movie portrays women.

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Or, scratch that—maybe the scene I'm thinking of is when Washington stares through an apartment window at Patton's lifeless body, looking like a kid who had a toy taken away. (But it's okay that she was shot in the head, according to the movie's logic—she double-crossed Washington and slept with Wahlberg's enemy/authority figure, and in this movie the two are always synonymous—and so she's totally worthless.)

Image: Universal Pictures

At the end of the film, Washington (who has up till now refused to identify Wahlberg as being Washington's "people," i.e. friend) has his life saved by Wahlberg. "Are we 'people,' now?" Wahlberg asks.

"No," replies Washington, "we're family."

And then Washington takes Wahlberg outside and shoots him in his leg, as payback for an earlier offense.

Does it make sense why this movie makes me empty? And I feel weird even mentioning it, because maybe other people can go see the movie and be fine—making me, I guess, some kind of hypersensitive moral legalist who requires his movies to have overtly, blatantly redemptive qualities (or Redemptive Qualities). And that's not me.

But there's nothing human about the movie. Not a single thing. The dialogue is cool but artificial. Women aren't people: they're possessions, or play-things, or collateral, or dead. Authority is a sham, and should be shot by Invulnerable Men With Guns like Wahlberg and Washington.

There's no friendship, just mutually beneficial arrangements (like the kind that end up making you $2-3 million richer). No love, just the repeated phrase "I really meant to love you."

I think the movie's closest thematic cousin is 2008's Wanted, a story about James McAvoy becoming a man by realizing his inner potential to murder people. As in 2 Guns, gunplay and male empowerment viz phallic imagery are intimately linked. Like 2 Guns, Wanted advocates for strength, masculinity, and self-assertion via might-makes-right, based on the hero's (or in the case of 2 Guns, heroes') ability to kill other people. The hero/heroes are just intrinsically better than other people. And other people (villains, authority, women, best friends, the whole lot) can either recognize that, or they can be killed.

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The only problem with that message being that it's a lie, a huge damaging harmful insidious charismatic lie. Anything good in life stems from the exercise of compassion and mercy and friendship (all of which are unheard of in 2 Guns). Everything valuable made by humans in the whole wide world is a product of our ability to connect with each other, and befriend each other, and love each other.

But all of that is so hard, so profoundly contradictory to everything we want by default to do, and it's so easy to just impose yourself on others, to yell and vent at people weaker than you, to talk behind people's backs, to be bitter and resentful of all authority in your life. It's all just so easy to do that you'd barely have to think to just stop trying and give up and be all those things (bitter and resentful and hateful and spiteful and mean). It's way too simple to be all the things that you want to be when you're tired and upset and have had a long day and are just sick of it all.

Human nature is intrinsically flawed, which means not only is evil easy, but it's attractive. Attractive and appealing and sexy. But we're called to turn away from that. We hardly need Wahlberg and Washington to stand on the sidelines, cheering for us to give in to our own brokenness.

Caveat Spectator

Uncountable amounts of swearing, including constant f- and s- words, crude genital euphemisms for both sexes, and graphic sexual discussions. Constant violence throughout, including one scene that graphically shows Wahlberg shoot the heads off four chickens buried in the sand. That scene made me feel sick. Paula Patton's breasts are exposed as she and Washington share a bed, she perched topless on top of him.

Jackson Cuidon is a writer in New York City. He enjoys movies with explosions and music with loud guitars.

2 Guns
Our Rating
½ Stars - Poor
Average Rating
(7 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (For violence throughout, language and brief nudity)
Directed By
Baltasar Kormákur
Run Time
1 hour 49 minutes
Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton
Theatre Release
August 02, 2013 by Universal Pictures
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