2 Guns: Film Review

Charm makes up for ludicrous plotting in twist-heavy crime story.

Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg are well matched in Baltasar Kormakur's "anti-buddy" film.

Many more than two firearms await viewers in Baltasar Kormakur's 2 Guns, an action-heavy crime film whose protagonists consistently get more than they bargained for. Think you're stealing three million bucks from that bank? Try $43 million. Think there's one lawman undercover in the drug cartel? Double that, and then set the two against each other in some double-blind scheming that forces a reevaluation of the label "buddy movie." 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.

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When we meet them, Bobby Trench (Washington) and "Stig" Stigman (Wahlberg) appear to be a team of smugglers freelancing for Mexican kingpin Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) while planning to steal some of his money from a small-town stateside bank. In fact, Trench is DEA and Stig works for U.S. naval intelligence; the former intends to use the cash as evidence in Greco's prosecution, while Stig's superiors want it to fund off-the-books military ops.

Unaware of their conflicting undercover roles, each thinks the other is just a crook who'll be disposed of after the heist. But seeing how well they pretend to be buddies in early scenes -- giving each other hell at diners, each man's brand of swagger complementing the other's -- no viewer will expect things to play out that way in the end.

The men are still in the dark about each other's identities when, after the heist, Stig shoots Trench and takes the money to his commander (James Marsden) -- who in turn double-crosses Stig and sets a crew of corrupt Navy toughs out to kill him.

This is still early in a story whose many twists include the news that the $43 million was not Papi's money but the CIA's: Bill Paxton lays it on thick as a menacing Southern spook who's been taking a share of cartel business for years and will not rest until he gets every penny back. The plot's outrageous complexity -- we haven't even gotten to Trench's colleague (Paula Patton), who's sleeping with him while keeping appointments with a mysterious second boyfriend -- may have been more credibly laid out in the source material, Steven Grant's five-issue comic series, but here it demands more than the usual suspension of disbelief. The filmmakers feel obligated to deliver a certain quotient of summer-movie action, when a more slow-burn focus on deceit and second-guessing might have worked much better.

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Wisely stepping back from the furrowed-brow seriousness of his first two American productions, Kormakur appears to be having a good time here. He's still far from the wry sexiness of his 2000 Icelandic debut, 101 Reykjavik, a film leaning more toward Pedro Almodovar than to Michael Bay, but this effort has a personality beyond the charisma of its leads.

Wahlberg shows more charm and vulnerability than he typically reveals in his action roles, playing Stig as a compulsive flirt with women but a romantic when it comes to bonds between men. Washington, dapper in a collection of sharp-brimmed hats, again finds ways to support a younger white co-star while remaining the most magnetic ingredient onscreen.

Production Companies: Emmet/Furla Films, Marc Platt Productions

Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Fred Ward, Edward James Olmos

Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Screenwriter: Blake Masters

Producers: Marc Platt, Randall Emmett, Norton Herrick, Adam Siegel, George Furla, Ross Richie, Andrew Cosby

Executive producers: Brandt Andersen, Jeffrey Stott, Motaz M. Nabulsi, Joshua Skurla, Mark Damon

Director of photography: Oliver Wood

Production designer: Beth Mickle

Music: Clinton Shorter

Costume designer: Laura Jean Shannon

Editor: Michael Tronick

Rated R, 109 minutes.