8/01/2013

Review: '2 Guns' Starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg


Don't be fooled by the title. There are a lot more than two guns blasting away in 2 Guns, but don't strain yourself because there isn't much else going on here. Nobody questions the superstar status of the ever-cool Denzel Washington, or the boyish charm and tough guy cred of Mark Wahlberg, but they've both committed themselves to at least one generic as sh*t crime film a year. Well, Wahlberg's usually good for two or three, but 2 Guns has so little going for it that's fresh or even remotely creative that it may have just rolled right off the assembly line and into your local theater's projector. This is the Easy Bake Oven of action movies, and while it may be hard and crusty around the edges, everything inside is mad doughy.

And really, none of this should be a surprise as the film teams Wahlberg back up with Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur, who brought us the forgettable Contraband just last year. Kormakur, a genuinely talented filmmaker everywhere else on the planet, has decided that American action movies all look like they were hammered out by the cheap clone of Tony Scott. His directorial fingerprint is so unnoticeable that he only deserves mention by way of backhanded compliment.

The combo of Wahlberg and Washington is going to be good for a fun time on some level though, right? Absolutely, and the film kicks off with wildfire banter between the two that promises an enjoyable, if familiar crime caper. Washington is smooth-talkin' Bobby Trench and Wahlberg grins his way through as Marcus "Stig" Stigman, two drug dealers working their way up the ladder in a Mexican cartel. A run-in with cartel leader Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) involving a decapitated head in a duffel bag and some poor tortured chickens leads to the guys agreeing to rip off a local bank to steal his money. But the $3M they were supposed to snag turns into $43M and a ton of questions, mostly revolving their own true identities. Neither man knows the other is actually on the side of the law, working for competing organizations, and they keep this secret for...oh, about ten minutes. The comedic interplay between the two as they hide their secrets was the film's most inspired element, and it's casually tossed aside in favor of simplicity.

2 Guns is the sort of film where everybody, whether they be good or bad, has an ulterior motive, and the plot bends into a pretzel to make sure all of those motives make some logical sense. It doesn't necessarily work, and the results are that none of the characters, including the two main ones, come anywhere close to being interesting. Washington has slipped into playing essentially two roles for the better part of the last decade. Either he's just being the cool and suave Denzel we've all just come to expect, or he's mocking the one time he dared branch out (and won an Oscar for it) as the morally bankrupt cop in Training Day. He gets a chance to do both here, rockin' a pair of gold fronts and with a shady demeanor that screams "snake in the grass". Wahlberg livens up opposite the rock solid Washington, but it's mostly like he just wandered in off the set of The Other Guys. The film takes great pains to be a riotous buddy comedy in the vein of those films, but Washington is dead set against it from the start. He sees 2 Guns as Man on Fire whereas Wahlberg is thinking Pain & Gain, and never the two shall meet.

While nobody is truly good in this scumbag fest, there are a few standout villains who stake their claim for the title. Olmos' Papi Greco is little more than a Mexican kingpin stereotype, who we see pissing on his own hands before delivering a beatdown with a baseball bat. Bill Paxton chews up a role as one of those undefinable government big wigs with a self-serving agenda, and James Marsden turns his usual All-American charm into raging insincerity with startling effectiveness. The lovely Paula Patton only shows up it seems to flash her breasts before getting lost in the plot's many inconsistencies. Granted, it will likely earn the film an extra point or two but it's disappointing to see her used so sparingly.

It's unclear if we're supposed to take the overblown violence and casual brutality by the "good guys" seriously, or if 2 Guns is simply late night HBO fodder. A truly odd, overlong sequence where Bobby and Stig are forced to cross the border with a bunch of illegal immigrants only adds to the confusion. The scene is notable for how much of a departure it is, and seems to be some sort of "teachable moment" about the immigrant experience, but it has no impact on the story in any way. Why was it there? What caused 2 Guns to suddenly turn into El Norte?

Good will for Wahlberg and Washington is pretty much all that 2 Guns has going for it, and that runs dry pretty quick. It's a film that will make for perfect background noise, or as the free in-flight movie during your next trip.