When low-level criminal Bobby Beans (Denzel Washington) and mysterious muscle Stig (Mark Wahlberg) team up to knock over a bank, both of them think they have the upper hand: Bobby Beans is actually Bobby Trench, a D.E.A. agent looking to bust local crime lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), and Stig is actually Michael Stigman, a disgraced naval intelligence officer who's trying to get reinstated by sucking up to his slimy superior, Quince (James Marsden). The unveiling of both secret identities coincides with a storm of consequences unleashed by the bank robbery: the two kidnap Papi Greco, getting his men on their tail, while a mysterious gunman in a cowboy hat (Bill Paxton) frames Bobby for the murder of his boss. Meanwhile, Bobby's sideline flame and fellow D.E.A. agent Deb (Paula Patton) is swept up on the chaos as the two men try to figure out a way out of their situation that plays all the angles.
In a summer of dreary blockbusters, the trailers for 2 Guns suggested a refreshingly upbeat throwback to the biting buddy comedies of the 1980s. The pairing of Denzel and Wahlberg had promise, an R-rating suggested a streak of mean-spiritedness that PG-13 team-ups sorely lack, and the action seemed competent in snippets. Sadly, the finished film sticks with its contemporaries by unleashing an overly convoluted series of double and triple-crosses that adds to a general air of fatigue and familiarity. Denzel is good and Wahlberg is great, and the rest of the ensemble cast is just icing on the cake, but that's really all the movie has in its tank, stumbling on action and wit.
Of all the film's limitations, it's definitely the murky action that hurts it the most. 2 Guns reteams Wahlberg with Contraband director Baltasar Kormákur. There are some fun, simple bits of non-action that Kormákur handles nicely, like a scene in a garage with a motion-activated lightbulb, or a moment where he catches the reflection of Bobby exiting a hotel in a set of closing elevator doors, but the film is mostly made up of uninteresting shoot-outs that are both hard to follow and fundamentally uninspired. Low point: Bobby goes to Stig's apartment to find him, but is trapped inside when men show up to kill Stig. Stig is on the roof of the building across the street with a sniper rifle, and his plan to guide Bobby through the apartment should be fun, but the geography is poor and the lighting is awful, killing the sequence.
Plot-wise, the problem is not that 2 Guns is in any way hard to understand or confusing, just that the convolutions of the story are not necessary. The key to all good humor is context and clarity, so that the punchline is apparent, so it would be in 2 Guns' best interest to lay all of the details on the table and play them for humor rather than unraveling them as legitimate suspense. Not only would doing so probably trim 10 or 15 minutes of fat out of the film (doesn't anyone make 90-minute movies anymore?), but it might give Paula Patton an actual character to play. The actress is woefully underserved in yet another male-centric summer blockbuster with a role that exists solely to motivate and manipulate the other characters, like the ball in the shell game.
Everyone else in the cast gets to have a ball, and it's 2 Guns saving grace, lifting the movie from a waste of time to a late-night TV pick. It seems likely that everyone in the world likes Bill Paxton, who is one of the film's highlights as a cold-blooded madman who likes to play Russian roulette with the people he's interrogating. His down-home twist on the character really gives the role some personality outside of his quirks, and Paxton milks each of his lines for the last drop of sinister amusement. Olmos does the same, but plays Papi as more goofy, possibly by necessity, as the character spends more time with Bobby and Stig. Denzel is his usual self, which is generally pleasurable, but Wahlberg's comic energy really brings their partnership together. It takes a special brand of action star to remain likable after shooting the heads off some innocent chickens, but Wahlberg just seems so jovial that he makes it work. Sadly, even the upsides of 2 Guns highlight its weaknesses: a comic book as source material, a decent budget, a time-tested genre, and a capable cast, and the movie only kinda skates by on chemistry.
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