The problem with 2 Guns isn’t its cast. While pairing Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg up in a film is akin to matching a juicy steak with a side of Pringles, the undeniable chemistry between the two seems to circumvent such aesthetic incompatibility. Besides, both are very good in their roles as shady undercover agents (Washington is DEA, Wahlberg is Naval Intelligence) trying to take down the Mexican drug cartels. It’s not the quick witted banter which delivers funny lines and sarcastic quips in abundance. It’s not even director Baltasar Kormákur, who shows a great deal of improvement over the last time he worked with Wahlberg in the uneven, uninteresting Contraband.
No, the issue with 2 Guns is the storyline, a setup so redundant that you wonder when each predetermined beat will arrive, make itself known, and then slip back into its place in the pantheon of action comedy cliches. You see, Bobby Trench (Washington) has been working for a long time to take down dandy kingpin Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). Working with what he thinks is a patsy, a smooth talking firebrand named Marcus Stigman (Wahlberg), they decide to rob a small town Texas bank in hopes of finding the cartel’s cash. Link to the money to Papi and… POW!
Instead, they come across $43 million in CIA slush funds, and this makes a mysterious, murderous man named Earl (Bill Paxton) very unhappy. With the help of a friend on the inside (Paula Patton), Bobby believes he can outsmart everyone. When he learns of Stigman’s military connection, he then must battle a cocky senior officer (James Marsden) who sees a potential windfall from an investigation gone FUBAR. Naturally, our heroes end up being targeted for what they know, having to finally work together to piece together the standard double/double/double cross.
Indeed, 2 Guns is rote in its everyone-against-everyone designs, no side working for anything other than itself and our leads hamstrung by corrupt forces all around. While we never know if Bobby and Marcus are truly legit (the latter seems gung-ho, the former…) or why they don’t just fess up to who they really are up front, it never matters. It’s all so obvious. What — the DEA wouldn’t want to work with Naval Intelligence to take down a deadly drug lord? You mean, agencies like those and the CIA are only in it for themselves? Next thing you’ll tell us the sky isn’t blue. 2 Guns is mired in this kind of clunky, old fashioned narration. Only the characters and the acting involved keep us from rolling our heads in “not again” recognition.
And both are excellent. Wahlberg develops a real character, making Stigman seem like the kind of soldier who would sell his soul for his country. He’s constantly criticizing Washington for his lack of commitment and many of these lines are hilarious. Similarly, Denzel is his typical smooth as silk self, killing the ladies while trying to maintain a lazy, lone wolf persona. Together, they generate the kind of onscreen partnership we wouldn’t mind exploring in a series of films. This didn’t happen with Wahlberg and The Rock, or Washington and Ryan Reynolds (Safe House). No, 2 Guns is one of the few buddy comedies where both parts of that categorization easily apply.
As for the rest? Well, Paxton steals every scene he is in, Olmos and Marsden make excellent, either side of the law villains, and Patton provides some sexy pillow talk. Kormakur also adds a few directorial flourishes — slo-mo, 360 degree still frame circling — to bring some life to the gunplay. Sadly, the predictable plot keeps getting in the way of the fun. Indeed, 2 Guns is a late summer season surprise. It also could have been much, much better.