Before I switch the safety off on my 2 Guns review, I should provide full disclosure: it's not a bad movie. However, it's also not a good movie. 2 Guns is a paint-by-the-numbers buddy cop film by Baltasar Kormákur that should be unwatchable, but actually delivers more than a few laughs, thanks mostly to its talented cast. Both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg clearly needed to buy a second beach house, and they're so excited about pocketing summer blockbuster money that they practically rub sunscreen on the audience's back. If you're looking for a respite from the cruel, August sun, you could do much worse. But you could also do much better.
In case you haven't seen the trailer, which gives away every major plot point, 2 Guns features Bobby Trench (Washington) and Marcus "Stig" Stigman (Wahlberg) as an undercover DEA agent and naval intelligence officer, respectively. Neither man knows the other is, in fact, fighting the good fight, but they are both after drug kingpin Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) because the film is set in the American southwest and the screenwriter (Blake Masters) apparently believes that nothing goes together like deserts and Mexican cartel lords. Bobby and Stig decide to rob a small-town bank, assuming they'll both net key evidence against Greco and also put their assumed criminal partner behind bars. They expect to find $3 million drug dollars, and instead walk away with $40 million CIA dollars.
The film proceeds as one might expect from there: Washington and Wahlberg's characters, beset and betrayed by their handlers, realize they are the least-shitty members of the dramatis personae, and antagonism gives way to begrudging trust, which in turn blossoms into the buddy part of the buddy cop film. However, despite Kormákur's assurances that he's trying to "elevate" the genre, 2 Guns's plot not only fails to reinvent the genre, but also fails to make much sense.
For instance, as if to approximate consistency, Stig and Trench insist on using the faux-axiom "Never rob a bank across from the best doughnut shop in three counties." I suppose some wisdom exists there, but it doesn't explain why two government agents, albeit undercover, opt to burn down the doughnut shop across from their target bank. At first, I assumed it would serve as a distraction, but no: they literally burn down a local business, and then wait to rob the bank until the next day. Sure, sometimes one has to do ugly things to arrest uglier people, but arson is still arson, even if it resolves fake bank-robbing advice.
Moreover, the film's half-hearted attempt to inject subtext into the narrative actually comes off suspicious and ultimately hollow. I suppose our current political milieu might very well inspire a story about corrupt and dysfunctional federal government agencies robbing rival agencies and collecting protection money from murderous drug lords. Yet when that theme appears in the same movie where Wahlberg's character shoots the heads off of live, partially-buried chickens as a gag, there's little hope for thoughtful reflection. And why, exactly, does the CIA want its $40 million badly enough to murder and torture other government employees, especially when the head agent (Bill Paxton) brags that the CIA has similar stashes in other banks? This dearth of character motivation or plot logic undermines the potential for delivering any meaningful message. Add to that dearth the gratuitous explosion that serves as the confusing resolution to Bobby and Stig's troubles, and it becomes evident that 2 Guns also suffers from a lack of brains.
Nonetheless, it does compensate for the absence of intelligence with plenty of heart, delivered by Denzel-Two-Oscars-Washington and Mark-Five-Time-MTV-Movie-Award-Nominee-Wahlberg. The script's narrative may not connect all the dots, but when its dialogue is bandied between Washington's easy, Virginia drawl and Wahlberg's sharp, south Boston twang, 2 Guns often becomes downright enjoyable. Washington's ability to snap from effortless cool to steely intensity perfectly complements Wahlberg's fast-paced "is he a moron or a genius?" routine. I'm not sure this film would even be watchable with two other stars in the leads. Yet that's precisely the kind of alchemy both Wahlberg and Washington specialize in: they transform the unwatchable into something approximating a good time.
They also benefit here from a strong supporting cast. Bill Paxton, working a southern accent harder than a suspected Al-Qaeda operative, plays the CIA agent who wants his money back; James Marsden does his best James Marsden impression as Wahlberg's corrupt commanding officer; and Edward James Olmos, ever the professional, plays his drug kingpin as if it were something other than a lazy stereotype. Everyone may just be paying bills here, but at least they are having fun doing it.
After watching the film, I'm now certain 2 Guns' establishing shot — a train barreling over the screen as though the audience is tied to the track — represents the best way to enjoy the film: don't try to fight it, just lay back and let it happen. But don't think about it too hard.