A film review by Craig J. Koban August 8, 2013

2 GUNS jjj

2013, R, 109 mins.


Mark Wahlberg as Stig  /  Denzel Washington as Bobby  /  James Marsden as Quince  /  Bill Paxton as Earl  /  Paula Patton as Deb  /  Edward James Olmos as Papi Greco  

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur  /  Written by Blake Masters

The deliriously and enjoyably pulpy 2 GUNS has so many all-over-the-map elements thrown into the mixer that I nearly needed to take notes just to keep up.  

There are  drug cartels, the DEA, the CIA, the cops, the Navy, and two heroes – both undercover – that are all after $43.125 million dollars that, during the course of the film, none of them seem to be able to locate or hold on to for any length of time.  Crime capper/buddy action films like this are a dime-a-dozen it seems, but 2 GUNS gets by considerably on the strengths and appeal of its two lead actors, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, who both have such an unforced and natural chemistry together on-screen that you are willing to forgive the film’s inherent faults and just simply go along with the story’s twisted and convoluted ride.  If ever there were an example of a film where casting is everything to its success, then it’s this one. 

The well paired Washington and Wahlberg play two undercover agents (which is not really spoiler material, since this is revealed in the film’s trailers) that are both blissfully unaware of each other’s real identities.  Bobby Trench (Washington) works for the DEA and Stig (Wahlberg) works for Navy Intelligence, but both of them believe that they are teaming up to work with a criminal.  Their main goal – which they keep from each other...that is until they learn about each other’s secret – is to infiltrate and bring down a drug kingpin named Papi Greco (a fine Edward James Olmos). Now, as far as I understand from the film’s somewhat confusing narrative, both Booby and Stig think that they are teaming up to rob the criminal of his fortune at a local savings and loan.  When they do perpetrate the robbery, they discover that the money actually belongs to a vile and dangerous CIA enforcer (Bill Paxton, deliciously seedy here) and now he wants it back.

Everyone still with me? 



Now, Bobby and Stig do come to the realization that they are both, indeed, working undercover, much to their own mutual dismay and shock, but complicating that discovery – on top of the CIA and Greco’s men hot on their trails – is the fact that Stig’s commanding Naval officer, Quince (James Marsden) decides that the money actually belongs to him.  Then a woman from Bobby’s past, Deb (Paula Patton) resurfaces back into his life with an agenda of her very own.  The rest of the film – until its ape-shit loony-as-hell final climatic showdown between everyone involved – becomes a series of chases, fistfights, gun battles, double crosses upon double crosses, and all out chaos…all in an effort for each of these characters to find the $43.125 million dollars and screw over everyone else involved in the process. 

Again, the easygoing and likeable camaraderie between stars Washington and Wahlberg pays off handsomely in this film and keeps all of the story’s bizarre nonsense successfully buoyant.  Wahlberg in particular, as an actor, has had a history of giving inconsistent performances (for every BOOGIE NIGHTS, THE DEPARTED, and THREE KINGS there is a MAX PAYNE, THE HAPPENING and THE BIG HIT).  Yet, Wahlberg, as of late, has demonstrated a real aptitude for comedy (see TED and THE OTHER GUYS) and he has arguably never been looser than he is in 2 GUNS playing the affectionately motormouthed, skirt chasing, and wisecracking Stig.  Washington’s Bobby proves to be an effective foil to Stig, playing his DEA agent with an almost unflappable level of guts, determination, and resolve.  At one point Paxton’s crooked CIA agent plays a game of Russian roulette with Bobby and literally has his gun pointed at his manhood.  Bobby barely flinches an inch.  This dude’s a tough hombre. 

Speaking of Paxton…how terrific is it to see him in such a juicy and delectably smarmy role again?  The greatness of his performance here is that he seems, at one point, calm, dignified, and soft-spoken, but then can be prone to hellish acts of violence when called upon during an interrogation.  This thug borders on being a cartoon character, to be sure, but Paxton has such enthusiasm with making this antagonist so unpredictably hot-heated, dangerous, and sadistically funny that you can’t keep your eyes off of him.  Then there is Edward James Olmos, bringing a bit of gravitas and quiet menace to an otherwise dime-a-dozen drug ringleader role, not to mention the alluring Paula Patton, who has more sides to her character than is otherwise hinted at early on. 

2 GUNS was directed by the Icelandic actor and director Baltasar Kormakur, who previously worked with Wahlberg before on the largely forgettable CONTRABAND.  Along with the stylish flourishes of cinematographer Oliver Wood, Kormakur makes a rather fine and sleek looking picture in 2 GUNS.  That, and he also seems to be able to – as oh-so-many other action film directors fail to do – helm the film’s numerous action beats with a relative and refreshing clarity and precision while very rarely, if ever, resorting to shaky cam histrionics and headache inducing editing.  It’s largely an invigorating thing to see – especially in our era of rampant visual overkill – a lurid pulp genre entry like this quarterbacked with an economic efficiency and lucidity.  

The film’s script – based on a graphic novel series of the same name by Boom! Studios – lacks the polish of the film’s aesthetic.  The premise itself is indeed nifty and sure-footed, especially during the film’s opening act – but the longer 2 GUNS progressed the more it seemed like it required a road map for viewers to make heads or tails of what was transpiring, how the characters all related to one another, and, yes, how that $43.125 million figured in on everyone’s schemes.  Then there is the way the film careens towards its conclusion, during which the relatively grounded approach to the story takes a back seat to a conclusion that’s bombastic, frenzied, and, quite frankly, insanely preposterous.  Let’s just say it involves a Mexican standoff that incredulously builds towards perfunctory explosions, halo after halo of gunfire, and the heroes rather easily escaping what should have been their very easy deaths. 

Still, I found it really hard to hate 2 GUNS.  It’s B-grade bordering on C-grade trash, but legitimately well made and impeccably performed trash.  Watching Bobby and Stig fighting their foes while engaging in their own verbal cat fights through the film is pleasurably, especially for the manner that Washington and Wahlberg are so adept and sly at owning the film’s colorful dialogue exchanges.  This tandem here provides a solid epicenter of interest in 2 GUNS when the film itself gets bogged down perhaps by the weight of its own perplexingly over-plotted story that could have benefited from a few more rewrites.  2 GUNS ain’t high art, but it never aspires to be.  As far as late summer films go, this one is a sure cut above the quality of the usual type of dumping ground August films of the past.

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