As far as action movies go, you really can’t get a more generic title than “2 Guns.” It’s your standard action flick and does nothing to propel the genre forward; however, it takes nods from some of the genre’s greatest staples to create a violent and surprisingly enjoyable summer movie experience.
The film opens with Denzel Washington (“Flight”) and Mark Wahlberg (“Pain & Gain”) as fast-talking, quick-witted drug dealers seated in a small restaurant to discuss just how to rob the bank next door. It’s a scene reminiscent of the opening minutes of “Pulp Fiction,” a modest but effective gesture given the pulpy atmosphere pervading the film. Washington’s Bobby Trench plays it smoothly but safely, calculating the details of every scenario, and Wahlberg’s flirtatious Marcus “Stig” Stigman is a bit reckless but also brilliant with a gun.
It turns out that Bobby is undercover DEA and Stig is Navy Intelligence, but neither knows the other is with the government. It’s only after their robbery goes wrong that each learns of the other’s affiliations. Soon, these ebony-and-ivory thunder buddies are on the run from a rogue Navy assassin (James Marsden, “Robot and Frank”), a pissed-off Mexican drug lord (Edward James Olmos, “The Green Hornet”) and, stealing the show, a twisted cowboy named Earl (Bill Paxton, “Haywire”).
The story, based on the comic of the same name by Steven Grant, suffers from its overly complicated structure, occupied with too many key players and too many plot twists. But Washington and Wahlberg are downright fantastic; their interplay is so captivating, it’s hard to resist their charm.
Director Baltasar Kormakur (“Contraband”) makes his stylistic choices carefully, utilizing an occasional slow-motion flourish and gritty camerawork. The film certainly looks terrific, and the action scenes are well choreographed, especially the climactic final showdown (“You looked so badass,” Stig tells Bobby).
“2 Guns” pays homage to those action films that came before it, from the aforementioned “Pulp Fiction” reference to “The Matrix”-style slow motion and the spaghetti Western Mexican standoff to the “Lethal Weapon” buddy-cop premise, but at times, it feels tiresome. This is especially evident when Kormakur tries to bring some sincerity to the film by showing us Bobby’s relationship with his sort-of girlfriend, played by Paula Patton (“Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol”), a fellow DEA agent. The actors give it their all, but the scenes feel out of place, almost forced into the story to show that there’s something more to the action.
And there is something more to this world — Kormakur simply failed to explore it. “2 Guns” exists neither in our time nor any time, but is instead a strange burlesque of past and present, where violence is the standard and loyalty is given only to the man fighting next to you. It’s a world that deserves true exploration and perhaps one day will be explored; in that sense, the film is a letdown. But, with as bad a name as “2 Guns,” we could have gotten a whole lot worse. Don’t judge this film by its title — it deserves a look.