In 2 Guns, Denzel Washington is an undercover DEA agent and Mark Wahlberg is an undercover Naval intelligence officer, each separately investigating the same south-of-the-border drug outfit. The two men don’t know each other’s loyalties, nor do they trust each other once their loyalties are discovered. In the balance hangs $43 million in cash, which they’ve knocked off from a bank—all part of their plan(s), more or less. In the line of fire are Washington’s colleague/paramour (Paula Patton), a Mexican kingpin (Edward James Olmos), Wahlberg’s rank-pulling boss (James Marsden), and just about anyone caught in the pair’s path.
Based on a comic-book miniseries by Steven Grant, this setup illustrates both 2 Guns’ potential and potential pratfalls. There’s no shortage of surprises and reversals—but not much beyond them, either. The film illustrates a paradox of shell-game storytelling: The more every motivation and interaction is suspect, the harder it is for anything to matter.Watching a group of people repeatedly double-cross one another may sound like fun, but it plays like an exercise—a dutiful round of escalating one-upmanship that powers through twists and turns before reaching a borderline-arbitrary conclusion.
For some, the no-frills action, half-pint Jim Thompson scenario, and buddy-cop wisecracks might be enough. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur has an affinity for this sort of unpretentious genre fare, and compared to, say, Michael Bay’s Bad Boys outings, his films take a refreshingly modest approach to excess. (Like last year’s Kormákur/Wahlberg smuggling movie, Contraband, 2 Guns is shot in a drab, seedy palette that doesn’t glamorize the proceedings.) Washington does his usual world-weary riff, Wahlberg is amusingly earnest as a character who badly needs some professional cynicism, but both are upstaged by Bill Paxton as a torturing psychopath who affects the attitude of a Southern gentleman. (If that doesn’t sound sub-Tarantino enough, there’s also a running joke about how it’s unwise to rob a bank near a diner that serves good donuts.) As in Contraband, Kormákur offers a hint of a political statement, in this case about the inherent potential for corruption whenever competing government agencies are operating in international territory. But it doesn’t quite make it. On almost every level, 2 Guns is content to be as flavorless and forgettable as its title.