FRESH POUR: The Smurfs 2 (2013) / 2 Guns (2013)

The Smurfs 2 / dir. Raja Gosnell / Columbia Pictures

The Smurfs 2By all accounts, The Smurfs is the absolute bottom of the post-millenial nostalgia-fueled CGI kid’s movie barrel; I have not seen it, but if The Smurfs 2 is any indicator, I’m not missing out on anything special. Kid’s movies aren’t that hard to mess up: Pixar seems to be doing an admirable job, ParaNorman was one of the best films of last year, and even the first Despicable Me had a nice message and a few good moments. However, with films like The Smurfs, Marmaduke and others, there seems to be a market for kid’s movies that attempt to entice adults through the cartoons and comic strips they liked as kids; Lord knows their own children have no idea what a Smurf is. However, the results are less than mixed in The Smurfs 2, which I came away from with a slight feeling of unease.

Following the events of the first film, The Smurfs 2 sees conniving villain/offensive Jewish stereotype Gargamel (Hank Azaria, bringing whatever mincing comic timing he has to this terrible character) as a famous magician in Vegas, having created two pale Smurfs named Naughties (Christina Ricci and JB Smoove) and plotting to get more “Smurf essence” by stealing all the Smurfs away and sapping them dry with a crazy machine. Meanwhile, Smurfette (Katy Perry), who was originally a Naughty before Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) freed her, is having identity problems given her adopted parentage and is captured/lured to our world by the Naughties. Papa and a trio of random Smurfs (whose character traits are solely limited to the adjective they identify with) follow her, enlisting the help of Neil “Patrick” Harris, his obnoxiously yuppie family, and a trying-too-hard Brendan Gleeson as Patrick’s unwanted stepfather Victor.

The plot is surprisingly overcomplicated for a kid’s film, not that it does it any favors – the whole exercise is an excuse to hop around Paris and have CGI-fuelled hijinks. The same bag of tricks you’ll find in any kid’s movie are here: pop stars as voice actors, a soundtrack full of obnoxiously overproduced pop songs, references to “things the kids like” like Youtube and Facebook, and so on. The Sony Nexus 7 tablet is featured prominently as a means to visualize Gargamel’s plan, complete with a scene showing Gargamel being delighted at its many features.  It’s all so nakedly manipulative that it makes you want to Smurf your guts out. Oh, yeah, the first film’s penchant for replacing words with “Smurf” is back in increasingly ham-handed fashion; you’ll hear phrases like “Smurfocalypse,” “Smurfholm Syndrome”* and “Smurflich Maneuver” ad nauseum, much to your chagrin and that of the parents and adults around you in the theater.

The only half-interesting idea or sentiment in the film is the characters’ struggles with their adopted parentage. Smurfette’s problem lies in her constant nightmares about her parentage, and her fear that she doesn’t really know who she is. Her conversations with Papa Smurf, which deliver the positive-but-sugary sentiment of choosing to be who you are, indicate a great deal of questioning of Papa’s authority over her. Meanwhile, Patrick constantly pushes away the well-meaning-but-obnoxious Victor because he “gets in the way,” but a later scene sees Victor showing how much he actually did for Patrick when he was little. This leads to the one and only good line/line delivery in the film, where Victor tells Patrick never to “tell that little boy out there that love is conditional, because it’s not!” It was a rare shining moment in this turd of a film, which made me feel that I wish this father/son relationship was explored somewhere else than here. He and NPH try their hardest, to be sure, but it’s certainly difficult to mine character and nuance out of something meant to make your kids shut up for 100 minutes and eat their popcorn.

Given that this is a kid’s film, it’s surprising how much phallic imagery is in the film, as well. The film’s central setting (poorly filmed in that TV-movie style all kid’s movies and terrible romcoms need to have, apparently) is Paris, where the skyline is constantly penetrated by the Eiffel Tower. Gargamel’s power is reduced to his working of a magic wand, which he upgrades to a giant dildonic device he calls “Lawanda” at film’s end. His defeat comes at the hands of Smurfette, who uses her own dildo to gain power over him, as Lawanda shoots him into the air with its magic (Gargamel always holding the wand at crotch level). Furthermore, he lands on top of the Eiffel Tower, which conveniently explores with fireworks at the tip immediately after he arrives. It’s still mostly harmless, but I was surprised how many symbolic cocks you could find in The Smurfs 2.

This whole review, I’ve been more or less ignoring the Smurfs, and for good reason; they’re not even interesting enough to anger me. Papa is mind-numbingly sage, Vanity Smurf just acts smarmy and pays for John Oliver’s mortgage, Grouchy Smurf vacillates between positive and negative, and…I remember nothing of the third Smurf. They feel like tourists in their own movie, wandering around in the periphery while we focus on Smurfette, Gargamel and Patrick’s plotlines. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it’s interesting to see just how little it feels The Fucking Smurfs have to do with the meat of their own movie.

To be honest, I was expecting to be pissed off at the movie, but I wasn’t; its sheer inanity just melted me into this puddle of boredom. This certainly makes it difficult to review; whether a movie is good or bad, I should be able to feel something about it. Instead, it just sits there, desperately running around from gag to gag, trying to get your kid to laugh. It’s like Victor in that way, but much less well-meaning; The Smurfs 2 is the grandpa who pulls dirty coins out of your children’s ears and pretends to lose at arm wrestling to them in a vain attempt to keep them entertained. Well, I say vain, but The Smurfs 2 will probably work on your little toddler. Just don’t expect to have any fun with them in the meantime.

*”Smurfholm Syndrome” is what I will now call the condition given to people who like the Smurfs films.

Clint’s Verdict: Skip It

Drinking Rules for The Smurfs 2:
1) Drink whenever you hear the word ‘Smurf’
2) Drink for duck puns
3) Drink anytime an obnoxious pop song starts playing
Finish Your Drink When:
Vexy (Christina Ricci) says, “Is this what happy feels like?”
*Bonus Rule: Take a shot when Gargamel (Hank Azaria) namedrops a David Lynch film. You have to figure out which one.

2 Guns / dir. Baltasar Kormakur / Universal Pictures

2 GunsEver since Tony Scott tragically committed suicide, I’ve been wondering if we would ever get a film like his later-stage multi-film collaboration with Denzel Washington (Déjà vu, Man on Fire, Unstoppable, Taking of Pelham 123); between Safe House and this, it looks like Denzel’s definitely on track to keep making Gritty, Wry Action Movies Co-Starring White Guy du Jour. With 2 Guns, however, the results are surprisingly fun, if overly complicated and rushed.

2 Guns follows Bobby (Denzel Washington) and Stig (Mark Wahlberg), two undercover cops in different departments who end up stumbling onto $43 million in CIA slush fund cash, leaving them on the run from their respective bosses (including James Marsden as a gung-ho NCIS officer), an eccentrically-evil CIA handler (a scenery-chewing Bill Paxton) and the Mexican drug kingpin they were after in the first place (Edward James Olmos). The plot is surprisingly convoluted, with double-cross after double-cross happening at rapid-fire speed, secondary characters coming and going, and Bobby/Stig spending a great deal of the film’s runtime on their own.

That last part is a real shame, because one of the film’s biggest saving graces is the effortless, endlessly watchable comedic chemistry between Wahlberg and Washington. Both men play slightly-exaggerated versions of their typical character types (Wahlberg the asshole with an almost childlike exuberance, Denzel all huckster swagger and serpentine confidence) but it works surprisingly well, considering both characters are just two different varieties of ‘loose cannon cop.’ It’s like a Lethal Weapon movie starring two Riggses. The highlights of the film consist of Denzel and Wahlberg bantering, shooting the shit and shooting other people’s shit, creating a crackling energy that salvages many a mediocre scene. It’ll be a long time before you see a conversation about yogurt be as fun as it is in 2 Guns.

The film’s R rating gives us a refreshingly violent take on the buddy-cop movie, in a world where PG-13 rules these kinds of action-comedies. Bodies spurt blood, dying people are pumped full of rounds, and we even see lingering shots of Paula Patton’s breasts. The action scenes themselves have a fun energy to them, with the sun-baked scenery of the Mexican border showcased by wonderfully saturated cinematography. The whole thing leads to a breezy, yet surprisingly visceral action flick that is pretty damn fun to watch. The supporting cast is nothing to slouch at, either; while Marsden and Patton are not really utilized well, Paxton’s performance is fun to watch (even though we’ve seen his character a million times before), and Olmos is so fantastically intense and wry, it’s a shame he doesn’t do as much on screen anymore.

All in all, however, the film still takes a bit too much time to get going, and doesn’t build enough momentum to feel substantial. Half of the film goes by before Bobby and Stig start really working together instead of working at cross-purposes and spending time on their own. Also, there are far too few scenes of them checking in momentarily with less interesting characters, like Fred Ward, who crops up in a single unnecessary scene about Stig’s continued future in the Navy. At least twenty minutes could be shaved off the film’s runtime with little downside, and the film’s climax could have benefited from some expansion.

Add to that a few half-baked attempts at commentary on the US-Mexican border situation (including a comic-relief scene where Denzel gets the best of a couple of redneck border patrolmen, and one where Stig and Bobby have to take The Devil’s Highway to sneak back into America), and you have a somewhat incoherent film that doesn’t quite come together in the end. However, it’s still worth a watch for nothing else but the return of some long-missed faces to the big screen (Olmos, Paxton) and the great comic energy of Washington and Wahlberg.

Clint’s Verdict: Liked It

Drinking Rules for 2 Guns:
1) Drink whenever you see two or more guns in the frame
2) Drink every time Bobby (Denzel Washington) and Stig (Mark Wahlberg) bicker over semantics
3) Drink any time someone says the name “Harvey”
Finish Your Drink When:
Earl (Bill Paxton) says to Papi (Edward James Olmos), “I’m in awe of your cock.”

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound (where he is a Senior Staff Writer), Crooked Marquee, IndieWire and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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