2 Guns Review

A critical digest of the week’s latest U.S. theatrical releases. Where applicable, links to longer reviews have been provided.

2 Guns
Distributor:
Universal
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg make for a very enjoyable pair of double-crossed undercover operatives in “2 Guns,” another fleet, unpretentious caper pic from Icelandic auteur Baltasar Kormakur, who previously teamed with Wahlberg on 2012’s sleeper hit “Contraband.” Here as there, Kormakur shows he knows his way around an action movie better than most, keeping the pace quick, the banter lively and the old-school, mostly CGI-free thrills delivering right on schedule. Independently financed (by Emmett/Furla Films and Mark Damon’s Foresight Intl.), the $84 million pic could be just what the doctor ordered to cure domestic distrib Universal’s post-“R.I.P.D.” box office blues, with offshore prospects equally solid.
— Scott Foundas
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The Smurfs 2
Distributor:
Sony
The global family auds who powered 2011’s “The Smurfs” to a smurftastic $580 million
gross will find much to enjoy in “The Smurfs 2,” a sequel that changes scarcely a drop of Smurf-essence in its winning formula. Tax-incentive Paris is substituted for New York this time, and a few new characters have been added to the mix, but the genially goofy shenanigans, incredibly corny punchlines and Hank Azaria’s go-for-broke performance as the incompetent wizard Gargamel are very much the same ― an entirely welcome thing in a summer movie season full of so much apocalyptic Sturm und Drang. Coming on the heels of DreamWorks Animation’s nonstarter “Turbo,” the pic should prove a formidable challenger to “Monsters University” and “Despicable Me 2” for the summer’s family box-office pennant.
— Scott Foundas
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The Canyons
Distributor:
IFC Films
The signature psychosexual perversity of director Paul Schrader finds its nearly perfect match in novelist Bret Easton Ellis, whose screenplay for Schrader’s “The Canyons” might just as soon have been called “Psycho American Gigolo” or “The Hardcore Rules of Attraction.” The first in the new wave of Kickstarter-funded features instigated by established old-media types, Schrader’s ultra-low-budget (reportedly $250,000) but handsomely made study of low-level Hollywood hangers-on has earned much prerelease attention for the casting of real-life porn star James Deen and the troubled Lindsay Lohan (also one of the pic’s co-producers). But the end result is hardly a joke, not least for Lohan’s fascinating presence, far closer to self-revelation than self-parody. Between VOD curiosity seekers and adventurous arthouse-goers, “The Canyons” is sure to see solid returns on its modest investment, while pushing Schrader back into the zeitgeist after a long fallow period.
— Scott Foundas
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(A24)<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Opens: Aug. 2 in theaters<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley won a special acting prize at Sundance for their performances in James Ponsoldt’s meaningful high school romance. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Brie Larson co-star.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
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The Spectacular Now
Distributor:
A24
The scars and blemishes on the faces of the high-school lovers in “The Spectacular Now” are beautifully emblematic of director James Ponsoldt’s bid to bring the American teen movie back to some semblance of reality, a bid that pays off spectacularly indeed. Skillfully adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel, evocatively lensed in the working-class neighborhoods of Athens, Ga., and tenderly acted by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, this bittersweet ode to the moment of childhood’s end builds quietly to a pitch-perfect finale. Warts-and-all authenticity can be a tough sell, but Ponsoldt’s bracing youth pic seems bound to graduate with honors.
— Rob Nelson
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Europa Report
Distributor:
Magnet Releasing
Two currently popular strands of genre filmmaking, the low-budget sci-fier and the found-footage thriller, merge to reasonably plausible and impressively controlled effect in “Europa Report.” Meticulously crafted by Ecuadorian helmer Sebastian Cordero and his team, this futuristic tale of astronauts searching for signs of life near Jupiter was ostensibly shot using cameras positioned aboard their spacecraft; their video diaries have been cannily reassembled into something coherent and genuinely compelling on their own low-key terms, if a touch over-earnest at times. Commercially, Magnet’s Aug. 2 release may fall into that unfortunate audience vacuum in which genre trappings and arthouse cool cancel each other out, though its methodical, science-positive approach stands to be appreciated by the curious and discerning.
— Justin Chang
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Our Children
Distributor:
The Cinema Guild/Distrib Films
Belgian director Joachim Lafosse paints an image of how domestic bliss turned untenable builds to a crime unforgivable in “Our Children.” Helmer’s fifth and finest feature centers around a bright young woman who snaps under the increasing suffocation of motherhood, marriage and a repressive living arrangement that crowds four kids, a Moroccan husband and a manipulative father-in-law under the same roof. At this finely tooled tragedy’s core towers Emilie Dequenne, no longer the feral young thing seen in 1999′s “Rosetta,” but a trapped animal pushed to devastating extremes. With strategic fest exposure and critical support, pic should find smarthouse success.
— Peter Debruge
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Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers
Distributor:
Doppelganger
Inspector Clouseau is nowhere to be found, but there’s many a Pink Panther on the loose in “Smash and Grab,” a gripping portrait of the daring international jewel-theft ring credited with more than 150 robberies totaling more than $250 million since 1993. Deftly weaving clandestine interviews with actual Panthers, spectacular surveillance video of their handiwork, and animated dramatizations to fill in the gaps, “Afghan Star” director Havana Marking’s imaginatively made docu couldn’t have arrived in theaters at a more opportune moment, with the Panthers back in the headlines again following last month’s brazen €40 million diamond heist at the Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes. That alone should ensure “Smash and Grab” arthouse bookings beyond its current single-screen Gotham run.
— Scott Foundas
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When Comedy Went to School
Distributor: Intl. Film Circuit
The “school” in “When Comedy Went to School” refers to the Borscht Belt, a boot camp where comedians honed their craft without fear of failure. Ron Frank and Melvut Akkaya’s docu isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but as a brief history of the Catskill resorts, liberally laced with well-edited archival promos, songs, homemovies and extended excerpts from routines by Jewish comics who performed there, it consistently entertains. Unfortunately, the film’s schmaltzy wraparound narration, delivered undiluted by Robert Klein, fails to amuse.  A trip down memory lane for target auds, the docu works best as a superior clip-compendium of classic Jewish humor.
— Ronnie Scheib
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The Artist and the Model
Distributor:
Cohen Media Group
An exquisitely crafted miniature about the creative rebirth of an aging sculptor, Fernando Trueba’s “The Artist and the Model” brings the same craft and care to its subject as its titular artist does to his own work. But although evergreen themes of life, art and desire are subtly probed, no revelations are forthcoming, and the result, though admirable, remains oddly remote. The kind of study fashioned expressly for the arthouse, the black-and-white pic has been acquired for North America by the Cohen Media Group, but auds attracted by Trueba’s reputation should know that this reps a departure for him.
— Jonathan Holland
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Drift
Distributor:
Lionsgate
The story of the enterprising Kelly brothers and how they ignited an Australian surfing and surfwear revolution is such an irresistible underdog story that, if it weren’t true, someone would have to make it up. Which is effectively what the makers of “Drift” have done, cobbling together bits and pieces of the humble origins of surf brands like Quiksilver and Rip Curl into a mostly fictional narrative that manages to get a fair bit right about early 1970s surf culture when it isn’t trafficking in the hoariest of David-vs.-Goliath cliches. After wiping out at the Oz box office in May, the pic gets a token theatrical release Stateside Aug. 2, but looks to catch most of its waves on the VOD pipeline.
— Scott Foundas
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Cockneys vs. Zombies
Distributor:
Shout! Factory
The beans-on-toast of English zombie comedies (“Shaun of the Dead” had egg and kippers on top), “Cockneys vs Zombies” is good enough to amuse those who find the title alone a howl, but not so good that it can’t be safely skipped by everyone else. Predictably crass, gory and potty-mouthed, Matthias Hoene’s first theatrical feature is a lively affair as these things go, but lacks the distinctive humor and performances more discriminating tastes require (even when they’re slumming). Already released in several territories and sold to more, it should do well enough internationally among genre fans as a niche item.
— Dennis Harvey
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Rising From Ashes
Distributor: First Run Features
Shot over the course of six years, the stirring “Rising From Ashes” charts the growth of the Rwanda national cycling team from inception to the Olympics, a success story badly needed by a nation still reeling from the mass genocide of a generation earlier. Engaging personalities and lively, good-looking assembly make T.C. Johnstone’s inspirational sports docu a crowdpleaser that should appeal to broadcast programmers and home-format distribs, with niche theatrical possible.
— Dennis Harvey
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Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer
Venue:
Bam Rose Cinemas, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Jamel Shabazz’s striking photographs dominate Charlie Ahearn’s docu, the director’s loose camerawork unwittingly highlighting the shutterbug’s arresting compositions. Shabazz started snapping group portraits of people in his Brooklyn neighborhood and on Gotham subways in the late ’70s, as the rise of hip-hop led urban youth to begin to represent, their clothes, stances and expressions forming a language immediately understood by peers. Their uncompromising, straight-ahead dignity, offset by the quasi-geometric formations Shabazz favored, linger long in the mind. Because Shabazz’s work belongs as much to ethnography and hip-hop culture as to art, potential venues for fest and smallscreen pickup abound.
— Ronnie Scheib
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