Directed by Baltasar Kornákur
Written by Blake Masters
The charm to 2 Guns is that it’s content to not try too hard. This is the kind of movie that will find a home on HBO and cable networks like FX in a year’s time, and play to a wide enough group of people who vaguely remember elements of the film, from its two leads, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg; to the sneering bad guys, Bill Paxton and Edward James Olmos; to various gritty if not terribly remarkable gunfights. There isn’t much more to 2 Guns than offering a throwback to the uber-violent buddy comedies of the 1980s, and while it isn’t nearly as good as its predecessors, the film is a mostly fun, breezy nod to the past.
Washington is Bobby, a laconic criminal eyeing a small-town bank near the Texas-Mexico border to rob a few million dollars away from a Mexican drug kingpin (Olmos). Wahlberg is his upbeat partner Marcus, equally game to steal the money after the kingpin takes out an informant friend of theirs. But all is not what it seems: in fact, both men are undercover agents, Bobby working for the DEA and Marcus for the Navy SEALs. The added twist is that neither is aware of the other’s law-enforcement ties until things go south after their take from the bank exceeds well beyond $3 million. Though these revelations end up pushing Bobby and Marcus further apart, they’re—of course—forced to work together against the kingpin, their bosses, and a particularly nasty Southern-fried political operative (Bill Paxton at his seediest) whose folksy demeanor barely hides a sociopathic streak.
2 Guns is almost entirely aware of its inherent silliness, as well it should be. It would not be difficult to poke holes in the film’s details, or even its underlying concept: if these two agents are so talented in different parts of espionage and law enforcement, how the hell could neither Bobby nor Marcus realize the other one’s a double agent? 2 Guns doesn’t deserve a pass for such strange plotholes, granted. The movie offers enough pleasures, on the surface and just a wee bit underneath, that they don’t overwhelm the proceedings, thankfully. Though it isn’t rare anymore in action movies, 2 Guns’ greatest strength is its anti-establishment commentary, meager though it may be. Bobby and Marcus are, to varying degrees, good to their cores and compulsive order-followers, even as they discover that, as one character intones, “blind loyalty isn’t loyalty.” They don’t end up facing off directly with the whole U.S. government, but said legislative structure is represented here as greedy, venal, and cynical; our worst, most conspiratorial fears are realized.
That potentially dark message aside, 2 Guns relies wholly on the dual charm offensive from Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, both of whom seem to have the most fun when they’re sharing the screen. Washington is beginning to reach his twilight years as an action hero, so he lays back while Wahlberg explodes with enthusiasm in each of his scenes. The giddiness that Marcus radiates at the thought of actually, fully being Bobby’s partner is just as much Wahlberg’s happiness at working with such a calmly magnetic and charismatic screen presence as Washington. Bobby and Marcus aren’t fully formed characters, just archetypes given enough life by two actors who could likely do well with meatier material. What makes Bobby and Marcus likable enough in the script by Blake Masters (based on the graphic novels by Steven Grant) is that they don’t aim farther than they can reach. Marcus does reveal some intense, high-level weapons in the second half for Bobby to choose from, but he picks a simple pistol; why use something over-the-top when the simple will suffice?
Where 2 Guns steps wrong, is in one of the supporting characters, played by Paula Patton. Patton isn’t the only actress in the movie, yet she’s the only one with more than two minutes of screen time. As Deb, Bobby’s colleague and on-again, off-again love interest, you might think Patton would get a fair amount of material, but all she gets to do is look either conflicted or physically confined. At one point, she might as well be the heroine in a Dudley Do-Right cartoon, all but tied to train tracks by a sleazy, mustachioed villain. That Deb is the only substantial female character in 2 Guns is frustrating if unsurprising for a Hollywood movie; that she is a mix of damsel-in-distress and femme fatale is a serious stumble.
That aside, 2 Guns is just enjoyable enough. Director Baltasar Kornákur shows a fair bit of skill behind the camera, even if one potentially tense car chase is muted due to an overreliance on shaky-cam photography. 2 Guns works primarily because its leads ooze with charm, Washington because that’s his baseline performance level and Wahlberg because the upbeat, excited action hero is an especially fun mode for him. Their work, along with the script’s attempt to revive a more old-fashioned sensibility of action-movie storytelling, is what keeps this thing cooking to the point that it’ll live on cable for years to come.
— Josh Spiegel