Film Review – 2 Guns
I’ll admit to you, there were a few times in 2 Guns where I was entertained. This mostly had to do with the main cast. In the same breath, however, I can’t talk about what I liked without mentioning what I didn’t like—which was pretty much everything else. This comes as a bit of a problem for the film, directed by Baltasar Kormakur (whose last mainstream work was Contraband) and written by Blake Masters (adapted from Steven Grant’s graphic novel). Can you have an entertaining time while watching a film you know isn’t great? I suppose you can, in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. But that’s where the problem lies; it never descends to that level. Instead, it settles directly on being mediocre. But it sure has a good time doing so.
The majority of what works is a result of Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. The two share a unique connection, a kind of action “Odd Couple.” Washington plays Bobby Trench, a gold-toothed, fedora wearing slickster with connections to dangerous people. Wahlberg is Michael “Stig” Stigman, a criminal with an uncensored mouth and a talent for gunplay. Both are in good form here, with energy in their performances. In fact, the pace slows dramatically when the two are not together. Their dialogue is quick and funny, and if you’re not listening carefully you’ll miss a sweet insult or two. Washington plays with his screen persona, using his presence as a way to sneak around (or even through) obstacles, and Wahlberg capitalizes on the same approach that earned him an Oscar nomination for The Departed (2006).
When we first meet them, Bobby and Stig are working as partners for a Mexican drug cartel, lead by the ruthless Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). What neither realizes is that both are actually undercover agents, Bobby for the DEA and Stig as an officer for the Navy. Both were recruited to infiltrate and take down Greco’s operation. How both agencies got involved with the same case without knowing is anyone’s guess. Things get hairy when the two participate in robbing a bank supposedly holding Greco’s drug money, but instead of getting away with a few stacks of cash, they end up with over $40 million. It seems bigger fishes are involved, and as Bobby and Stig unravel the mystery, they fall deeper into hazardous waters.
Besides the two leads, the other standout performance is from Bill Paxton as the CIA agent known as “Earl.” Earl has a keen interest in Bobby and Stig that only grows in desperation once the robbery takes place. He’s so intensely focused on his pursuit that he resorts to extreme methods to get answers. Paxton is only in the film for a few scenes, but what he provides is memorable, especially with how he uses Russian Roulette as a means of interrogation. Paxton is good at playing a slimy weasel, which makes for a nice counterbalance to the goofballs that are Bobby and Stig.
For all the good the film has going for it, there is more that holds it down. The screenplay convolutes different characters and plot threads into a mess, where we’re not sure who’s a traitor to whom, how one corrupt organization is involved with another, or how one person is being set up against someone else. By the time we get to the big showdown, I found myself thinking, “How did we get here again?” Much is made about the Mexican-American border, but the characters move back and forth so often that it never amounts to anything. It’s not much of an issue if someone says goodbye to someone else on one side, only to say hello to the same person once they cross over! Whatever narrative tension is built gets dissolved by a random plot twist or a perfectly timed contrivance. A screenplay needs to be really good to explain the twists and turns of a crime film—unfortunately, this one doesn’t do it.
And then there’s Paula Patton, who is used as nothing more than eye candy. She plays Deb, a DEA agent that works with Bobby (in more ways than one). I liked Patton in her role in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), but here she is never utilized in full. We’re told that she’s an agent, but whatever skills her character has are used off screen. Her only memorable moments are when she’s either in her underwear or even topless. I don’t mind nudity when there’s a purpose to the story, but there was no real purpose for it here, and as a result her scenes stick out awkwardly. When her character is no longer needed, she gets tossed to the wayside without a second thought.
2 Guns exists in that strange place where you like certain aspects of it, even when its issues are noticeably clear. People who go into it will probably find something to enjoy, but for those looking for something special or unique, you’re not going to find it here.