2 Guns (2013)
109 min., rated R.
"2 Guns" might be a misnomer, as more than a pair of loaded firearms go bang! bang!, but this post-"Bad Boys" buddy-cop action comedy actually fits the bill when concentrating on the brio and dynamic between its two guns, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Otherwise, the film convolutes its plot of double-crosses that is mostly just standard stuff to begin with, its clashing blend of jokey banter and hard violence prove to be uneasy in tone, and both sins put a damper on the fun. The two stars' chemistry and swagger count for a lot when the material is ordinary, but such elements go only so far to help this so-close-but-no-cigar misfire's case.
Undercover DEA agent Bobby Trench (Washington) and AWOL Navy Intelligence Officer Michael "Stig" Stigman (Wahlberg) pose as drug runners, both of them working on taking down Mexican drug kingpin Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). That they're both narcs and neither one knows it is nearly incidental, but they decide to rob $3 million from Greco's safety deposit box, so they can prosecute him for laundering money. But they find a loftier sum of $43 million, which belongs to kill-happy black ops operative Earl (Bill Paxton). After Bobby and Stig are both ordered to betray the other, they later team up, realizing everyone is a crook out to set them up, so these guns will have figure out a Plan B.
Given the empty screenplay by Blake Masters, the two lead actors don't really get to play defined characters whom we can root for, but it's often good fun to just watch them and hear their zippy back-and-forth repartee. The best scene is the first, where Bobby and Stig sit down at a diner across from the bank they're going to rob and give their waitress an indecisive order à la 1970's "Five Easy Pieces." Then before blowing up the diner, they leave her a good tip (which might not make sense in retrospect). As Bobby, Washington glides through this tailor-made role with two removable gold teeth, and it's a hoot when he corrects his partner for mispronouncing "misanthrope" and "Les Misérables." Likewise, Wahlberg, as Stig, perfectly melds his wiseguy image, winking at the ladies and forever chewing gum like a cow chews its cud, and always-surprising comedic chops when playing a guy about as sharp as a marble. Paula Patton plays the attractive card well as DEA agent Deb and Bobby's sometime-girlfriend, but she exists for a topless scene as gratutious as Halle Berry's in "Swordfish," and eventually, her character unexpectedly shows her true colors with some regret. In a film that has three or more pivotal baddies (including James Marsden as a crooked naval official), Bill Paxton is most memorable as Earl. It's amusing at first to see the actor as a shadowy cowboy, but when his sadistic game of Russian roulette comes out to play, Paxton's turn is unsettlingly evil. A scene where he points his favorite handheld object at Washington's precious jewels crackles with tension.
Director Baltasar Kormákur (2012's grittier, minimally superior Wahlberg-starrer "Contraband") knows how to shoot the shoot-out set-pieces, allowing them to be coherent and involving, and moves the film efficiently at a no-nonsense pace even through the narrative muddiness. Based on the Boom! Studios graphic novels by Steven Grant, "2 Guns" is brutal and irresponsibly violent, with an unnecessary cruel streak that turns violence into a joke. It's fine for an action flick to be unapologetically R-rated, but not when it sours the jocular dialogue and is sometimes at the expense of finding appeal in our so-called "heroes." Innocent chickens are buried in the ground up to their necks for target practice, only to have their heads blown off for chuckles. Stig smiles about wanting to waterboard a drug lord. And, though it's by Earl, a veterinarian gets shot in the knee cap.
Once it's finally figured out who is on what side of the law, what everyone is after, and the whys are all chalked up to ludicrously garden-variety greed, it's a little late to start caring, so one is better off just throwing scripting concerns to the winds and watching the gunfire and explosions. Even then, when all the greedy double- and triple-crossings come to a head in a Mexican standoff, it's disappointingly anticlimactic. As action pictures go this year, the one in question doesn't stack up as one might have hoped. Washington and Wahlberg's interplay goes a long way in making "2 Guns" more diverting than it really is, but, with that charismatic pairing, the end result is still more unexceptional than it ought to be.