In a summer when the buddy cop genre already had an attempted revival with a feminist twist (The Heat), it’s a far more traditional take on the wisecracking crime-fighting partners school of action movies that worked out best.
Based on the comic book series by Steven Grant, 2 Guns continues producer/star Mark Wahlberg’s quest to revive the R-rated action movie, and it’s a noble B-movie goal worthy of the effort. Re-teaming with his Contraband director Baltastar Kormakur, Wahlberg has possibly spearheaded his finest throwback action flick to date. Sure, it’s a little on the convoluted side and is absolutely devoid of any deeper meaning than “stuff goes boom = fun,” but 2 Guns does recreate that jovial 80s spirit of ultra-violent action missing from most action flicks these days. The movie will probably disappear from your brain moments after leaving the theater, yet that’s what popcorn-chomping entertainment is all about and at least the folks behind 2 Guns delivered the goods.
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg star as a pair of longtime friends/criminals… or at least it seems that way at first before the waterfall of plot twists spills all over the screen. You see, Washington is actually an undercover DEA agent while Wahlberg is working for the military undercover. Together they rob a bank that they think is holding $3 million worth of drug money, but actually contains $43 million from a mysterious source. After the robbery the duo part ways on bad terms when their real identities are revealed. But, this being a buddy movie, they are soon reluctantly forced together when a variety of evil forces conspire against them. Wahlberg quickly learns that his superior officer James Marsden is a shady crook who knew the money was there and planned to steal it for his own purposes. Meanwhile, Denzel is pursued by Bill Paxton’s psychotic Russian Roulette-loving CIA agent who knows a little more about the money than any government stooge should as well as the Mexican drug lord (Edward James Olmos) whom the buddies intended to rip off in the first place. After a series of solo action scenes and double crossings, Wahlberg and Washington are reunited to take down the trio of super villains and protect Denzel’s tacked on girlfriend Paula Patton.
Whew! That’s a heck of a lot of set up and the payoffs involve so many twists that you can only tell who is good and who is bad based on which actors are sneering onscreen at any given time. The script feels like it was condensed from an entire comics run, with enough twists for 10-12 issues of a comic book crammed into a lightning paced hour and forty minutes. There’s no denying that there are too many characters and twists for that amount of entertainment, but the rickety script at least holds together in the end and too many ideas in a movie is always preferable to too few. Baltastar Kormakur abandons the shaky cam realism from Contraband for a slick, colorful, and knowingly silly comic book action movie aesthetic. The tone sells the ridiculous premise perfectly, never asking an audience to take anything seriously but simply encouraging them to buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Then there’s the cast who embrace their character types with knowing glee. Denzel opens the flick with a gold tooth grin and the “joy of evil” style that got him an Oscar in Training Day before reverting back to his expert “tough guy on a mission” type from flicks like Man On Fire once he assumes the character’s real personality. Whether under cover or not, Wahlberg is the wacky-wiseacre half of the buddy cop duo and puts his comedy skills on full display as a loudmouth with as many one-liners as bullets. It’s a bit strange to see him funnier here than in his Will Ferrell buddy cop comedy The Other Guys, yet he’s always been more actor than comedian, so I suppose that makes sense. Washington and Wahlberg are a fun, engaging duo in dialogue and action that carry the movie well. However, any blockbuster hero is only as strong as the villain.
Thankfully, there are three good ones to carry the load. James Marsden does the corrupt army officer thing well, killing guys like it’s all business. Edward James Olmos clearly relishes the chance to play a cartoon cartel leader and visibly enjoys reveling in evil. However, the whole show is stolen by Bill “Game Over, Man” Paxton. He’s a veteran of the action movies referenced here and knows exactly what’s needed. His snarling Southern psychopath is a terrifying creation with a sick streak of humor. If the movie is successful enough, it’s Paxton who will get the spin-off T-shirts. If you’re a fan of the character actor the flick is worth seeing for him alone. Only Paula Patton delivers a weak performance, but that’s probably as much due to her limited screen time and half-baked characterization in the boys’ movie as it is due to her limited acting chops.
There’s no point in pretending that 2 Guns is anything more than it set out to be; a fun, dumb buddy cop romp. While many of the twists may come out of left field, they always follow a well-worn genre narrative that can be predicted before buying a ticket. Some may claim that makes the movie feel tired and stale, and they have a point. However, this genre has been so poorly played for so long that simply seeing it executed competently by a decent director and a stellar cast is enough to feel special. It’s been a long time since a buddy cop flick this entertaining hit screens and for fans of old school action flicks that’s enough to make it an occasion worthy of celebration. Hopefully there will be more and better buddy cop comedies made in the future, but for now 2 Guns can carry a torch for the long lost genre just fine. The flick is dumb, funny, violent, and entertaining. What more could you want out of a movie called 2 Guns opening in August?