By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 1, 2013 at 4:27PM
"2 Guns" is a great example of what's right and wrong with commercial studio moviemaking these days. It's smarter and more entertaining than your average $80-million schlocker. And it's got a cast of wily entertainers keeping us engaged, from sparring undercover agents Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg (the trailer gives that high-concept away) to villains Bill Paxton (as a corrupt CIA agent) and Edward James Olmos (as a Mexican drug lord).
And the film's rising star director, Baltasar Kormakur ("The Deep"), is a member of a growing band of truly international filmmakers who make films at home as well as Hollywood. Wahlberg starred in "Contraband," Kormakur's remake of his own "Reykjavik-Rotterdam," and took a shine to the rugged Iceland actor-director. Wahlberg is also producing an HBO pilot with him, "The Missionary."
Kormakur is a terrific shooter; he keeps you on-edge and off-kilter as he keeps moving; the movie is jarringly violent. So what's not to like? OK, this is better than most the other two-character buddy comedy actioners that have been coming down the pike since the days of "48 HRS." and "Beverly Hills Cop." But as usual the women in the film, mainly Paula Patton, are pretty pathetic--not the target audience, I guess. "2 Guns" tries valiantly to breathe life into an old formula but it's still boring.
(I talked to the director about "The Deep" here.)
Nothing here is underplayed, least of all a convoluted plot that eventually has three governmental entities and one cartel fighting over the loot. But the picture survives its excesses thanks to winning chemistry between stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, who animate banter-heavy dialogue and click so well, one wonders why they haven't shared the screen before. Much less generic than marketing materials suggest, the film could outearn recent action offerings from either star.
Ultimately the bang-bang in "2 Guns," directed by Baltasar Kormakur, becomes so tiresome that you forget what should be the main focus of the film: The appealing, easy chemistry between the leads. What should have been an entertaining two hours with this charismatic pair becomes a somewhat exhausting affair that might more aptly be called "Boys and Their Toys."
Pure charisma is sometimes the best special effect. That’s what Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg bring to “2 Guns,” and after a season full of superhero duds, they deliver a crucial dose of cool.
There’s more to the story than just their repartee. Yet to director Baltasar Kormákur’s credit, he clearly saw he lucked into a great, wisecrackin’, trigger-finger team, and he gets out of their way.
Washington does his usual world-weary riff, Wahlberg is amusingly earnest as a character who badly needs some professional cynicism, but both are upstaged by Bill Paxton as a torturing psychopath who affects the attitude of a Southern gentleman. (If that doesn’t sound sub-Tarantino enough, there’s also a running joke about how it’s unwise to rob a bank near a diner that serves good donuts.) As in Contraband, Kormákur offers a hint of a political statement, in this case about the inherent potential for corruption whenever competing government agencies are operating in international territory. But it doesn’t quite make it.
2 Guns gets more and more ridiculous as it goes along, but it’s also the kind of movie that likes to privilege little moments over big ones — where a running, jokey dialogue about one’s “people” can result in offhand bits of tenderness, and where big revelations about different characters’ true intentions can be buried in just a couple of glances or an indirect line of dialogue. As such, it never loses its ambling, ground-level quality. Even when major characters get killed, with maybe one exception, they get killed with a minimum of fuss. Indeed, for a movie with so many twists in it, 2 Guns never really jerks us around.
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg make for a very enjoyable pair of double-crossed undercover operatives in “2 Guns,” another fleet, unpretentious caper pic from Icelandic auteur Baltasar Kormakur, who previously teamed with Wahlberg on 2012’s sleeper hit “Contraband.” Here as there, Kormakur shows he knows his way around an action movie better than most, keeping the pace quick, the banter lively and the old-school, mostly CGI-free thrills delivering right on schedule.