This week "2 Guns" loudly blasts its way into the footnotes of Denzel Washington's career, taking Mark Wahlberg along for the short ride into movie obscurity. This generic buddy cop flick will be in good company, since Washington has a long and not so illustrious history of phoning one in every few years.
One of the most indelible actors of his generation, the two-time Oscar-winning Washington has worked under some of Hollywood's finest filmmakers (Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, Robert Zemeckis), and continues to rake in cash and accolades in movies as recent as last year's "Safe House" and "Flight"(respectively). Still, there are at least five action vehicles scattered over the years that you would have a hard time remembering he even made. He probably wants it to stay that way.
We're dredging up all the bad memories with these five missteps. As for their directors, there are no happy endings.
'The Mighty Quinn' (1989)
Director: Carl Schenkel
Domestic Gross: $4.5-million
On a small island in the Caribbean, murder is afoot. A wealthy hotel owner is found partly decapitated in a jacuzzi, and Police Chief Xavier Quinn (Washington) is charged with bringing in the prime suspect: his childhood friend Maubee (Robert Townsend). Big personalities and lots of local color (read: stereotypes) abound in this noir thriller that finds Washington in the midst of a government conspiracy involving $10,000-dollar bills and a not-so-intimidating M. Emmet Walsh with a machine gun. The actor is smooth and charismatic, but is outshone by the badly underutilized Townsend. Drinking contest aficionados with a death wish: Take a shot every time someone says "Mon."
Aftermath: Since Schenkel's next two films starred Christopher Lambert ("Knight Movies") and Casper Van Dien ("Tarzan and the Lost City") it goes without saying that they were barely released in theaters. The rest of his CV is littered with made-for-TV dreck, and the Swiss filmmaker passed away in 2003 at age 55.
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Domestic Gross: $21-million
"You go on and on and you don't stop! Got sticky sneakers from the blood of a shot cop!" As those lyrics attest, the Ice-T title-song from the movie "Ricochet" is far more cleverly nuanced than the film itself. It's a standard revenger about a raving psychotic named John Lithgow put in jail by a young rookie cop named Styles (Washington). Seven years later Blake uses his Aryan Brotherhood connections to escape prison and begin framing the now-Assistant District Attorney Styles using sex, lies and videotape, and a few murders for good measure. Eventually a disgraced Styles has to turn to a gang banger played by Ice-T (natch) to help clear his name and catch Blake. Not only is the action weak and derivative, but the subject matter is genuinely unpleasant. It's one thing to torture Mel Gibson in a "Lethal Weapon" movie, it's another to give Denzel Washington gonorrhea from a prostitute. Would John Wayne have stood for that?
Aftermath: Mulcahy made a name for himself with the original "Highlander," then slummed it on journeyman action disappointments like this and "The Shadow" until he finally failed his way to the bottom, eking out cheeseball DTV fare like "Silent Trigger" or "The Curse of King Tut's Tomb." In 2007 he was given a rare studio gig on the cookie cutter "Resident Evil: Extinction," which actually did good business, but not enough to revitalize his career, and now he's grinding out episodes of "Teen Wolf" for our parent company MTV. Good luck, buddy!
Director: Brett Leonard
Domestic Gross: $24-million
The director of "The Lawnmower Man" makes another cyberpunk foray into virtual reality murderers, before filmmakers realized VR was as dated a sci-fi concept as installing Hamburger Hamlets on the moon. But that's not where the lameness ends, oh no! Set in the dark dystopian "future" of 1999, when hardcore software developers create a simulation named SID (Russell Crowe) who is a composite of 183 serial killers. SID is accidentally brought to reality instead of a porn program (really), and only a convict/ex-cop named Parker Barnes (Washington) has the know-how to take him down because he killed 1 of the 183 personalities the bad bot is programmed with. Yawn. Crowe and Washington would clash again on opposite sides of the law in the far-more-successful 2007 venture "American Gangster."
Aftermath: 1995 should have been a banner year for Leonard, but both his studio pictures (this and the Jeff Goldblum-starrer "Hideaway") tanked badly. He continued playing around with innovative 3-D IMAX films before such things were in vogue, though his features have by and large been direct-to-DVD sludge like "Highlander: The Source" and "Man-Thing," the latter being the least-successful movie to bear the Marvel insignia since "Howard The Duck."
'Out of Time' (2003)
Director: Carl Franklin
Domestic Gross: $41-million
Washington plays yet another Chief of Police, this time in the fictional town of Banyan Key, Florida, where he's getting a divorce from a homicide detective (Eva Mendes) and having an affair with a local hottie named Anne (Sanaa Lathan). After discovering Anne has cancer he steals half-a-mil impounded from a drug bust to pay for her treatments, but both Anne and her husband and killed in a fire alongside that stolen cash. Awkward! With all evidence pointing to the Chief -he was Anne's beneficiary- he has to find out who set him up before the heat comes down on him. Was everyone taking notes on that? No? The convoluted nature of this local conspiracy practically makes this "The Mighty Quinn 2," but with a considerably older Washington merely going through the motions.
Aftermath: "One False Move" and his other Washington-starrer "Devil in a Blue Dress" made Franklin a hot commodity, but after a string of high profile duds ("High Crimes," "One True Thing") he has been relegated to TV directing jail since "Out of Time." Granted, his cell is a gilded one, as he's been directing acclaimed shows like "House of Cards" and other kinds of shows like "The Newsroom", so it's only a matter of time before he gets another chance at bat.
'The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3' (2009)
Director: Tony Scott
Domestic Gross: $65-million
Washington chubs it up as a slightly rotund subway dispatcher for New York's MTA who faces off against a balding John Travolta in a battle of two fading titans that couldn't be a more lightweight diversion. Travolta's scheming psychopath holds an entire 6 train hostage, but the ransom is only part of the squeeze; it's really a scheme to drive the Nasdaq down for profit. Whaaaat? This was Tony Scott at his laziest, churning out a cheesy remake of a 1974 Walter Matthau thriller, but the spiced up car carnage and Wall Street shenanigans don't make it any more relevant than it was forty years ago, which is not much. They don't exactly have "The French Connection"/ "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" double features in film school now do they?
Aftermath: Scott and Washington would cap off their long creative affiliation with "Unstoppable" in 2010, another generic genre effort that would have made this list if not for its higher gross and memorable SNL parody. The master action director would tragically take his own life in 2012 at age 68.