Summer 2013 has delivered another throwback action movie following last month’s White House Down, the type of movie that would have been the big summer tentpole had it been released in the 80‘s or 90’s. 2 Guns is in the same vein of a Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production and would have made a great Tony Scott film had it not been for his untimely death; especially with the presence of Scott’s muse Denzel Washington. Instead Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband), Mark Wahlberg’s new collaborator, takes on directing duties proving to be adept at handling this type of material (This is an improvement over Contraband). 2 Guns is solid entertainment featuring respectable movie stars hamming it up while slumming it down.
The plot is convoluted, silly, and far-fetched, so as a result this isn’t amongst the smarter thrillers that either Washington or Wahlberg have appeared in; but what the movie lacks in substance it makes up for in fun. Washington plays Bobby Trench, an undercover DEA agent posing as a bank robber. His partner in crime is Michael Stigman (Wahlberg), an undercover naval intelligence officer. Both men are trying to infiltrate a drug cartel led by Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), with Trench’s goal to rob the $3 million Greco has hidden in a bank in Mexico and thus get him convicted on a tax evasion charge (the first of many plot points that don’t make a whole lot of sense). Neither Trench nor Stigman are aware that the other is working undercover and that they’re actually “partners in justice” as opposed to “partners in crime”.
The filmmakers’s felt that one villain wasn’t sufficient enough, so in addition to the Mexican drug lord, they throw in two more. You see, the $3 million our heroes steal turns out to be $43 million, dirty money belonging to a corrupt southern outfit of the CIA who want it back. Then there’s the corrupt Navy officers who want the money for themselves, led by Stigman’s superior Quince (James Marsden). The various institutions involved and their levels of corruption, in addition to the double and triple crosses that occur every few scenes, serve to complicate an otherwise straightforward story. But in a nut shell, everybody wants that money and everybody wants to kill everybody.
Bill Paxton (where’s he been?) is the standout of the bad guys as crooked CIA agent Earl. Sporting a southern drawl and a penchant for sadistic methods of interrogation, Earl is more of a renegade cowboy than he is an evil CIA operative. He enjoys playing Russian roulette with his victims, only in his version of the game he points the gun at his target’s kneecap or groin. As he says, pointing the gun at the temple is stupid as you’d kill the man before getting him to talk. Actually, he makes a fair point.
After the botched bank robbery, the first half of the film plays more like an anti-buddy comedy with Trench and Stigman working rogue and trying to avoid one another. When they do manage to cross paths it results in fist fights. In that regard this is a less generic buddy-cop procedural than the trailers suggest, with the guys not teaming up until they learn they share a common interest. Washington’s straight-man character is less enthused about this notion than Wahlberg’s wacky sidekick. Sort of a sidekick. While both are the leading men, at times Wahlberg does take a backseat as Washington gets the meatier storyline, including a love interest played by Paula Patton as his DEA coworker.
The pairing of Washington and Wahlberg is inspired casting. It’s surprising that these two action heroes (who appear in similar types of movies) have never worked together before. The two actors have a natural chemistry, with their bantering both in between and during scenes of shoot-outs and car chases making for a more comedic tone than you might expect. In fact, all they’d have to do is change the names of the main characters and this screenplay could have been used to make Bad Boys 3. Washington and Wahlberg serve to elevate the material as the jokes and one-liners are mostly cheesy, but their rapport with one another and playful deliveries still manage to amuse.
This isn’t a particularly difficult acting assignment for either the Oscar winner (Washington) or nominee (Wahlberg), both of whom are quite familiar with playing this sort of tough guy role. Neither character is ever intimidated throughout their dangerous escapades. While strung upside down and wriggling to avoid a bull that’s charging at them, they still find the time for some humorous repartee; almost as if (like the audience) the characters know that they’ll make it out of this situation alive. The whole affair is full of preposterous action sequences culminating in a final standoff where all the respective parties meet up to “shoot it out”. Aversely, Washington and Wahlberg will learn to “hug it out”.
Inane as it may be, 2 Guns is enjoyable escapist entertainment. Instead of relying on the innovations in computer technology, the film relies on the charisma of its leading men, lower-key action sequences featuring practical stunts, and a hard R-rating that doesn’t hold back on the bloody violence. Part buddy comedy, part gritty action-thriller, 2 Guns delivers the kind of old-school entertainment that the recent CGI-heavy blockbusters have been missing.