‘2 Guns’ good team, so-so movie

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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(From left) Academy Award winner Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg lead an all-star cast in 2 Guns, an explosive action film that tracks two operatives from competing bureaus who are forced on the run together. But there is a big problem with their unique alliance: Neither knows that the other is an undercover federal agent. (Patti Perret/Universal Pictures)

2 Guns is at times a dementedly amusing piece, one whose graphic-novel roots are clear in its sometimes cartoonish action and humor. Stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg work well enough together that at the end of 2 Guns I was convinced I could watch their characters interact in many more movies.

Just maybe not in this one.

As adapted by Blake Masters and directed by Baltasar Kormakur (who also did the Wahlberg-starring Contraband), 2 Guns wants to be clever but is more often just complicated, tossing in new plot elements without ever quite figuring out how to resolve the incidents and ideas it has already put in motion. Its frequent lightheartedness is at odds with some heavier drama, including the death of a key character. It suggests a deeply corrupt American government but uses that only as a backdrop for banter and action.

To be sure, some of the action is very good. And the movie gets off to a spirited start. Washington is DEA agent Robert “Bobby” Trench, Wahlberg a Naval Intelligence operative, Michael “Stig” Stigman. Both are undercover, infiltrating a drug ring, and each thinks the other is a criminal. Together, they scheme to rip off a drug cartel’s bank — only to discover after the bank job that they have stumbled into a far bigger, messier situation than they imagined. Soon enough, the audience almost needs a scorecard to keep track of all the people and organizations on Trench’s and Stigman’s trail. (Among them: a drug lord played by Edward James Olmos and another bank patron played with considerable elan by Bill Paxton.)

The chase is intermittently entertaining — Kormakur knows how to do action sequences — and there is plenty of fun to be had just in the interplay between the two main characters.

Indeed, when not making more serious films like Flight, Washington has lately been content with action movies featuring him and a younger, white male co-star. Besides 2 Guns, other recent films in that vein have included Safe House with Ryan Reynolds and Unstoppable with Chris Pine.

While Washington remains a big-name star at 58, the pairings let him reach beyond his fan base, particularly to younger fans — and he seems OK not only with playing the older guy but with jokes about it. Puzzling over why another DEA agent played by the significantly younger Paula Patton is involved with Trench, Stigman finally says, “Daddy issues!”

In Wahlberg he has found a good screen companion, And the movie veers from the traditional sane-buddy/crazy-buddy pairing (see The Heat, Lethal Weapon and so on) to let both Stigman and Trench be more than a little nuts. It sometimes seems that both each actor and character pushes the other into ever more intense nuttiness.

Would that the movie was as good as the camaraderie. Paxton excepted, the supporting characters are not very vivid, and Patton’s role and performance are especially unsatisfying. 2 Guns has the makings of a really good trailer — but not enough for a consistently good movie.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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