Review: '2 Guns' Has Bland Action But Manages to Get By on Charm
by Jeremy Kirk
August 2, 2013
Last week we rejoiced in the departure from massive blockbuster destruction with The Wolverine's mystery premise. This week we're getting back to pure action. Though based on a comic book, 2 Guns still offers a nice sidetrack from the Summer with bullets blasts, governmental espionage, and the buddy-buddy charm of its two leads. It's just unfortunate that the action, from director Baltasar Kormákur, never quite lives up to the excitement of watching Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg try hard to hate each other's guts. 2 Guns, the latest buddy action movie, has the buddy part in droves, but not so much the action.
Washington and Wahlberg play Bobby and Stig, respectively, a couple of undercover agents working the Mexican drug cartel of one Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). The twist is, Bobby and Stig are working for different agencies - Bobby for the DEA and Stig for naval intelligence - and neither knows the other's secret. After they decide to steal $3 million from Greco's bank, the cat gets out of the bag, and the two are forced to work on saving each other's skin. What they believed to be $3 million is actually $43 million. The money belongs to the CIA, and it isn't long before the number of people each man can trust gets dwindled down to only each other.
From the setup, premise, and talent visibly at work here, 2 Guns is a film that works on charm alone. It goes without saying that Washington and Wahlberg are the main attractions here, particularly to see the two A-listers having a grand old time with this surface-level material. It's fine that there's no deeper meaning strewn throughout 2 Guns, a film that's only designed to make its audience have a good time. With these two going from clawing at each other's throats to standing back-to-back firing those two guns, that good time is a foregone conclusion.
It's almost difficult to dock points against 2 Guns for having lackluster action. Yes, it is an action movie, but everything else works so well that the actual gunfights and car chases seem ancillary, as if the film wants to be more of a buddy comedy than a buddy action movie. Kormákur didn't thrill anyone with his visual style in last year's Contraband even if the drama in that film was more than a little impacting.
The director knows how to get the performances. He does fine work building the scene and adding creativity to character moments. But once the guns come out, the slow motion kicks in, and everything becomes blocky, too staged for its own good. There's more intrigue in a scene with Bill Paxton's CIA baddy talking about and playing Russian Roulette than there is in Wahlberg and Washington playing demolition derby with a couple of SUVs. Kormákur offers little energy in his action, and its often strange when the film slows down just when the on-screen excitement seems to be kicking in.
You get to the point where you look forward to 2 Guns slowing down and getting back to the two main characters bantering back and forth. All the best tropes of buddy action movies are in here. Stylish protagonists butting heads and becoming best buds in the process. Paxton, Olmos, and James Marsden as the naval commander who back-stabs Wahlberg's Stig are all dynamic villains who would each fit in perfectly with the gallery of '80s bad guys. Paula Patton as Bobby's DEA partner and sometimes love interest is still powerful as the obligatory damsel in distress. The film's R rating allows those bullet blasts to get a little messy.
And all the while Washington and Wahlberg keep the charisma from ever slipping too low. We learn so much more about Washington's Bobby than we do Wahlberg's Stig, and the latter character's thinness is something of an issue. Basically all we know is he's loyal to the military code and he's a helluva shot. Regardless of their respective character's development, though, both Washington and Wahlberg play up the charm as best they can. When they're together, though, 2 Guns becomes a very entertaining film.
It's hard not to find a certain level of entertainment value in 2 Guns. It doesn't satiate the thirst for solid action thrills that fans of the genre will be looking for. The action sequences are here, but they're presented in such a grounded, medium-shot way that you can't help wish a better action director had taken the project on. Nonetheless, 2 Guns is practically saved by refreshing characters brought to life by resoundingly energetic actors. All the ingredients are here for a bang-bang-shoot-em-up buddy movie for the ages. They just deserve a better chef working in the kitchen.
Jeremy's Rating: 6.5 out of 10