You don’t need a review to break down 2 Guns. It’s all there on the deceptively simple poster: A couple of guns, a parade of burning $100 bills, a military-grade helicopter, a halo of explosions, and Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg smack in the middle, their backs against each other. That’s all you need to know because things like plot, characters, logic etc… they’re all trivial in this dopey but engaging diversion that coasts on the rapport between its two charming stars.
The trailers and the marketing for 2 Guns have been billing it as the first on-screen collaboration between Washington and Wahlberg. And that’s just about all it is – an hour and 45 minutes of the two actors fighting, bonding and trading jabs at each other. Occasionally, they’ll stop to shoot some bad guys, but then it’s back to ribbing one another. Think of it as a 2st century Tango & Cash.
It’s this playful, light-hearted approach, the modus operandi of director Baltasar Kormákur (who also directed Wahlberg in last year’s Contraband), that places the film a notch above the generic action thrillers the two stars have been excreting for the better half of the last decade. Whether they’re bickering about how to torture a bad guy or getting back at each other, their tête-à-tête keeps the film flowing even when you have no idea what’s going on.
And chances are you’ll feel that way through most of the movie. Truth be told, their comedic banter is about the only thing 2 Guns has going for it because whenever Kormákur concentrates on his big action scenes or say the plot for example, the movie falls flat.
Washington plays Bobby Trench, a suave DEA agent (i.e. the straight man). Wahlberg is Michael Stigman, a smartass army intelligence officer (i.e. the comedic one). When we first meet the duo, they’re deep undercover, partners in crime for a bank heist containing $3 million that belongs to a notorious Mexican drug lord (Edward James Olmos). But here’s the cinch: neither man knows the other is also a government agent.
When the bank they rob turns out to have $40 million more than expected, they unearth a sprawling trail of corruption that extends from the drug lord to a dirty navy officer (James Marsden) to a slimy Texan CIA agent (Bill Paxton – chewing it up). There’s also a sexy DEA agent (Paula Patton) who takes her clothes off for no better reason than to quell the urges of the horny demographic who the filmmakers are trying to reach. Somewhere along the line, someone is double-crossed, triple-crossed and quadruple crossed. In other words, it’s a potpourri of preposterousness that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. You just know that eventually, everything will come to a head in a Mexican standoff.
But before they can deal with all of that, they first have to resolve their own differences. Lucky for us, the dynamic between Washington and Wahlberg is so good that it makes all the nonsense around them easy to swallow. Granted, neither actor is treading new waters but there’s an affable quality to the duo’s relationship – a rare thing in today’s action cinema. Washington, who can play this lovable anti-hero role in his sleep, brings his trademark cool, collected confidence to Trench. His swagger and smiles a cloak for his dead-serious professionalism. Walhberg’s Stigman is a mash-up of his Oscar-nominated role in The Departed and his brash detective in The Other Guys. In other words, he’s putting on his tough smartass routine – but doing it well.
Other than Washington and Wahlberg, only Bill Paxton’s showboating performance as a slimy CIA agent is worth mentioning as Patton, Marsden and Olmos are all wasted playing tropes. Paxton gets all the best lines and the great bad guy moments. I only wish his role amounted to more than the dubious Texan accent he brandishes.
2 Guns is far from essential cinema. At best, it’s an excuse for Washington and Wahlberg – two of the most likeable and bankable stars in Hollywood today – to show up to work, trade jabs at each other, and pick up an easy paycheck. But as far as late summer diversions go, you could do worse.