Baltasar Kormakur’s “2 Guns” is one of those movies that are just ripe for nitpicking. It’s based on a series of graphic novels by Steven Grant, but unlike most comic book adaptations these days, it’s not gritty and hard boiled, like the recent Batman and Superman films, nor is it PG-13 lite, like all of the recent Marvel movies. It definitely deserves its R Rating (there’s plenty of violence and swearing, along with some nudity) but it’s also extremely silly and over the top. It’s essentially light action entertainment for adults; all logic and plausibility within normal bounds is thrown out the window and there aren’t any serious consequences.
It has such a casual, “screw it” attitude. Here’s a movie where the main characters (played by Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg) don’t think twice about breaking into a navy base (and they do it by simply driving through the gate and outrunning the guards), make sarcastic comments as they’re about to be tortured by a Mexican drug cartel boss, and very casually go into a police station and lock the cops up in the holding cells so they don’t interfere right away with a nearby bank robbery. So, with all of this, it’s easy to simply role your eyes and tear this movie to shreds.
But even in a movie as silly and unbelievable as this, authenticity can be found if the filmmakers can get you to believe in the characters and if the right actors play those characters. “2 Guns” succeeds in doing this and therefore the movie works…somewhat. Wahlberg and Washington are really the only legitimate reason to see this. Wahlberg plays Michael Stigman, a navy Intel officer hired to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel. Washington plays Robert Trench, a DEA agent hired to do the same thing. They’re also supposed to bust one another in the process. But of course things go wrong, forty-three million dollars goes missing from a bank, and both guys are double crossed and framed by their superiors. (Speaking of double crossing, there’s so much double crossing and betrayal in this movie that you could make a successful drinking game.) Now they have to work together to…well, I think you get the idea.
Right away in the opening scene (where we find the two undercover agents in a diner scoping out a bank where supposedly the cartel is keeping money) we get a buddy comedy vibe, one that carries through the duration of the film. To my knowledge this is the first time the two actors have collaborated but based on this early scene alone it feels like their fifth or sixth; their back and forth comedic banter being so entertaining and believable. It’s nice to see an action movie like this that values dialogue.
Both roles play to the actors’ strengths. As I said in my review of last year’s “Safe House,” Washington can usually make the best of his role, even if the movie isn’t entirely there to support him. Robert Trench isn’t foreign territory for him; he’s wise, manipulative, charismatic and fearless. Most of the time he’s in control and when he isn’t he has no trouble getting out of a bad situation. In other words this is the sort of role Washington can play in his sleep, but that doesn’t make it him any less fun to watch.
As for Wahlberg, he once again showcases his almost flawless ability to do comedy. Stigman is confident and ambitious but kind of dumb and reckless, who seems to act mainly on instinct and split second decisions (it is his idea to break into the navy base by just driving through the gate) and he’s also a loud mouth. As with Washington, Wahlberg is a natural in this role and together the two play off each other wonderfully. A lot of times with these kinds of films the casting can make all the difference and having Wahlberg and Washington gives this movie a major boost.
It also helps that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. For how familiar the story is, why not have some fun with it? And it helps that the movie keeps that comedic tone intact. The major problem with Kormakur’s last directorial effort “Contraband” (also with Wahlberg) is that it wanted to be a gritty, hard-boiled crime film as well as a loose and silly action film; as a result the two dueling tones undermined the whole picture. In “2 Guns” the tone stays consistent.
Despite all the praise I’ve given this movie, I’m not going to tell you that “2 Guns” is any kind of great movie, it will be forgotten in a month or two. Without nitpicking it still has flaws, notably the fact that most of the supporting characters don’t have a lot to do. Like Paula Patton, who plays a rather dull love interest for Trench or Edward James Olmos and Bill Paxton who both play one-note cartoon villains. They can be entertaining yes, but you wish there was more for these two talented actors to do.
Even so, Walberg and Washington are a lot of fun to watch and keep the movie from collapsing in on itself. I hope they work together again in a better movie.