In the past decade or so – starting with “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” really – television has undergone a renaissance, with many series being praised for looking and feeling more like movies. But in our digitized, OnDemand universe, where our entertainment media is morphing into an anonymous blob, the inverse is also true – movies resembling TV shows – and this comparison doesn’t come with the same cachet. In fact, it’s usually pretty tacky.
There is nothing, save the occasional F-bomb and brief glimpse of female nudity, that separates a superficially stylish actioner like “2 Guns” from the parade of macho, breezy, artless series on the USA network. It moves with the same telegraphed editing patterns, is scored with the same indistinguishable musical compositions and is scripted with the same blend of tough-guy admonitions and sub-Tarantino pop banter. Though the narrative has many “twists,” they are all predictable twists; the film has as many actual surprises as a roll of wallpaper, and is about as interesting to look at.
That said, you won’t want to gouge your eyes out, because Denzel Washington can bring a certain magnetism to any role, even one as clichéd and undemanding as this one. He plays partner to Mark Wahlberg in what appears to be a routine bank heist, except that both men have ulterior motives unbeknownst to each other. One’s an undercover DEA agent, and the other’s an undercover naval officer, and the stolen cash is drug money that’s even dirtier than either man thought.
Consequently, they’re soon paired against each other and forced into a series of precarious situations that we’re supposed to accept as “life-threatening,” when it’s obvious they’re both indesctructible antiheroes quietly laughing at the foibles of their mortal foes. These include Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos and James Marsden, all representing their own nefarious interests. Everybody’s corrupt, every institution functions like a drug cartel, and everyone eventually collides in a gelatinous mass of a climax, coming together not with the dynamic elegance of a good long-form series, but rather like the monochrome cogs of a shoddy model toy snapping into place.
The film’s source material may be a celebrated graphic novel, but in the end all we have is another personality-free product from an assembly line.
Elsewhere in today’s cinemascape, the Spanish thriller “The Body” starts off with such promise: A frazzled man runs for his life through the woods at night, reaches the road and is struck by a car; he’s comatose, and it turns out he’s the night watchman in a morgue, where a newly minted cadaver has gone missing, without a shred of evidence connecting her whereabouts. Enter Jaime (Jose Coronado), a hotheaded police officer with a traumatic past; and Alex (Hugo Silva), the corpse’s jittery widow, whose suspicious behavior surrounding his wife’s recent passing sets up countless red flags.
The plot description must end here in deference to the writer-director, Oriol Paulo, and his litany of surprises, changeups and switcheroos – feeble and patronizing as they soon become. “The Body” is like an onion, where the removal of each peel reveals another detail that seems to be leading to a revelation. Only the core of the onion is rotten. Paulo is not interested in rewarding his audience’s deduction ability, instead delighting in hoodwinking all of us.
Half of the film’s third act must be composed of flashbacks to prior scenes and dialogue snippets, which we’re then expected to re-evaluate in favor of the latest ludicrous lecture from one of its characters. Jaime, and by extension Paulo, relish the ludic aspect of policework, of solving the unsolvable crime, and thus the movie is set entirely over the course of one night-turned-morning, in a marathon session of cat-and-mouse reversals. But ultimately the game is so rigged that the audience never really had a chance, and you’ll feel cheated by the end of it. We’re just left with plot twists so ludicrous they almost function as self-parody and characters that never rise above the level of cardboard cutouts and straw men – the police officer who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules, the arrogant adulterer whose perfect crime went awry. The only scenes that hold any interest in this snoozy chiller are the flashbacks between Alex and his devilishly playful late wife, Mayka, played with arresting poise by Belen Rueda. Too bad she’s six feet under before the film is six seconds in.
“The Body” opens today at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale, the Tower Theatre in Miami and Muvico Hialeah 12.