If the trailers never mentioned it, you’d probably never know 2 Guns is based on a comic book. The movie version of this crime story feels much more like Tango & Cash than anything produced by Marvel, but 2 Guns does share one aspect with the films of that superpower-fueled studio: it has genuine movie stars in the lead roles. Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg banter and shoot their way through a twisty plot, and their chemistry is the glue that holds this movie together.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Steven Grant’s original 2 Guns comic, and I definitely wasn’t impressed by Contraband, director Baltasar Kormakur’s 2012 collaboration with Mark Wahlberg, but the film version of 2 Guns improves on both. The comic struck me as a predictable, run-of-the-mill story, but when the characters are inhabited by Washington and Wahlberg, they actually bring some life to the proceedings. They’re certainly not the most well-rounded or complex characters you’ll see in an action film, but the actors have a natural and occasionally funny repartee that works far better on screen than it does on the page.
The story follows two thieves (Washington and Wahlberg) who rob a bank so they can rip off a dangerous drug lord (Edward James Olmos). But things aren’t as they appear: we learn early on that Washington is actually a DEA agent and Wahlberg is a Naval Intelligence officer, both ordered to use the other as a fall guy, but each man has no idea the other is undercover. When they find themselves with far more money than expected from their heist, their true identities are revealed and allegiances are tested as the duo is framed and hunted by a man who wants his money back. Writer Blake Masters does an admirable job of adapting the comic and making the plot intricate without being convoluted. There are a lot of reversals and reveals throughout, and though they aren’t always logical (it’s an action movie, so you essentially have to check all logic at the door), they’re at least easy enough to follow.
Though his character is more dour than his counterpart, it appears as if Washington is having a swell enough time yukking it up with his co-star. He dons silly hats and gold tooth caps while trying to stay serious as Wahlberg goofs around and plays as the comedic relief. Wahlberg is such a smooth fast-talker that it’s easy to imagine this role being played by Vince Vaughn – which nearly happened, as this movie was once pegged as a buddy flick for him and pal Owen Wilson. But Wahlberg does a passable job; he’s spent the past few years carving up the box office with roles similar to this one, so he has the formula down at this point. It’s just unfortunate that the script spends more time setting up the machinations of the twists than it does allowing either of the actors the opportunity to really dig into their characters.
Bill Paxton chews all kinds of scenery as the bad guy our protagonists accidentally ripped off, slipping into a Southern accent and often playing Russian roulette with his captives to get the information he wants. It’s a big, goofy, fun performance, and a nice departure from his typical straight-laced roles in blockbusters like Twister and Titanic. James Marsden plays Wahlberg’s boss, a tight-assed crooked NCIS officer who has it out for his fellow soldier. I like Marsden (especially in comedies, a genre in which he’s been underutilized), but he’s terribly miscast here. At 39, he’s three years younger than Wahlberg and doesn’t bring enough authority to this character for us to adequately fear him. Paula Patton shows up as Denzel’s love interest, but I’m still waiting for her to get a role equal to her part in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol that will actually be worthy of her talents.
Kormakur’s direction seems much more honed and controlled this time as opposed to his work on Contraband, and here he trades the shaky cam method for a more balanced, straight-ahead shooting style. It’s not the kind of thing that’s going to earn him auteur status, but it’s the kind of no-nonsense workmanship that should gain him respect in the industry. If recent movies are any indication, it’s tougher than it should be these days to tell a coherent story in a way that isn’t overly confusing or disorienting; Kormakur makes sure that you know what’s happening every step of the way, and his setpieces are relatively sparse and – when they do pop up – well-executed. I was never confused about who was where in the geography of a scene. While this kind of clarity should theoretically be a given when watching a movie, that’s sadly not the norm in today’s filmic landscape.
Aided by Clinton Shorter’s solid score punctuated by a twangy Texas electric guitar, 2 Guns delivers on the promises of its marketing: it’s a decent buddy piece with a few chuckles and some suitable action sequences. There might be a moment or two that cause you to raise your eyebrows and be surprised at where the film goes, but mostly this is just a slightly above average crime story, complete with all the cliches that entails. Until next time…
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