2 Days in the Valley is many things. It’s an interweaving crime narrative about hitmen, frustrated cops and ex-Olympic athletes. It’s a movie that resembles Pulp Fiction in that they are both mid-90s updates of classic noir tropes - although Pulp Fiction is a lot more ostentatious because it filters it's stories through a European art-film lens while 2 Days in the Valley tells it's crime tales in a relatively straightforward manner. It’s also notable as a showcase for a young Charlize Theron, who was handed a nothing part as an icy femme fatale and who turned into a star-making part through sheer force of will.
It's also a film with a terrible name – in fact, it might have one of the worst names of any move in history. It makes all the errors you can make when you're titling a film. It's confusing, since it doesn’t specify why those two days or which valley. It doesn’t really describe the movie because “2 Days in the Valley” makes no reference to sex, violence or the movie’s wise-ass tone. In fact, that title makes it sound like an introspective character drama, because it has a vaguely pretentious side to it. Finally, "2 Days in the Valley" doesn’t organically arise from anything in the movie, since none of the characters are acting under any sort of time crunch. (One of the hitmen has a specific time table he hopes to meet, but he doesn’t ascribe any special significance to that; it’s just his plan.)
The only thing that the title “2 Days In the Valley” does do well is play into L.A.’s obsession with itself. Angelinos seem to be fixated on the San Fernando Valley: they love to write essays about it and make movies about it and make movies about how they make movies there. If I was a Californian I’m sure I’d understand what makes the Valley so compelling. I know that it’s ground zero for America’s porn production, and I know that it’s supposed to be a unique combination of bland and weird. But I don’t live there, and I don’t really get it. This movie has nothing to do with pornography and most of America’s suburbs are simultaneously bland and weird, so is there any reason to label this movie as a “Valley movie” instead of something more universally appealing?
In fairness to this movie, there is at least one scene that discusses the spiritual properties of “The Valley”. It occurs between two cops who are investigating a massage parlor where the masseuses might do a little more than massage their customers. One cop sees the Valley as a symbol of all that’s wrong with the world: it tries to look like a clean, safe place but is secretly harboring a lot of unpleasant secrets. His partner thinks that maybe he’s just projecting. (And when we catch a glimpse of the disgruntled cop’s home life we see that his partner is right – he is projecting.) You could defend this movie’s title by arguing that because The Valley is a seemingly clean suburb which secretly creates a lot of filth it’s a perfect metaphor for the world these characters live in, because they seem like normal people but they are secretly involved in murder plots.
…But that doesn’t really wash because most of the evil people are obviously evil and the good people are obviously good. The cop who seems like a nice guy ends up being a savior at the end; the creepy hitman turns out to be a creep; the bitchy femme fatale pulls some really bitchy moves. No, this is a meat and potatoes movie that doesn’t need a title that’s meant to signify something portentious about America’s seedy underbelly. At it’s heart this is a cops and robbers movie, not Blue Velvet.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not calling the movie dumb. In fact, it’s script is full of smart one liners and it does a good job of weaving all the different stories into one coherent whole. I’m just saying that there’s no circumstance I can think of where this title goes with this movie. I can understand why they didn’t go with “A Man Takes a Dog Hostage!” or “Now Introducing… Charlize Theron in Hot Pants!” but there had to be some other title that they could have picked which would have fit a knowing update of noir-ish murder stories. Like I dunno, Pulp Fiction? Oh, wait, that was already taken. Ah, well, whatever the title, this is a fun little movie, and it's well worth your time - particularly if you enjoy Charlize Theron in hot pants.