You’d be forgiven for walking into 2 Guns with modest expectations of it being little more than a passable buddy action/comedy. After all, this hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the sub-genre thanks to recent releases like R.I.P.D. and The Lone Ranger stinking up the movie houses, and beyond Paul Feig’s The Heat you’d be hard pressed to name an example that was even pretty good.
But regardless of how you enter 2 Guns you’ll be walking out with a big goddamn smile on your face because this is one of the most consistently entertaining buddy cop movies in years.
Bobby (Denzel Washington) is an undercover DEA agent paired up with an undercover Navy officer named Stig (Mark Wahlberg), and they’re both working against the clock to take down a murderous Mexican drug lord. Their plan hits a few snags though, chief among them the fact that both men think the other is actually a criminal, but vying for that top position is a robbery that sees the duo on the hook for over forty million dollars in dirty money. Disowned by their respective agencies and on the run from both the good guys and the bad guys, Bobby and Stig are forced to work together if they want to make it out of this mess alive.
Look, I didn’t say it was all that original, but that doesn’t stop it from being a hell of a lot of fun.
If the story sounds incredibly generic it’s because much of it is, but Washington and Wahlberg bring all of their considerable charisma to an otherwise sharply written script that makes excellent use of their respective abilities and charms. Washington is following up his most serious film in years, Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, which itself followed a quartet of fairly straight forward action films, with a role that allows him the room to cut loose. Even as what passes for the straight man here, Washington absolutely revels in the wit, sarcasm and smirking bravado. Wahlberg is more familiar with his own comedic side, and his turn here is further evidence towards the argument that his best performances are the ones that play to that strength.
Individually they’re wonderfully engaging actors, but together they’re one of the most surprisingly compatible pairings in recent memory. Wahlberg’s motor mouth and little man in a big jacket syndrome combined with Washington’s playful display of casual authority and effectiveness reveal an experiment in chemistry whose outcome no one could have expected. It’s like flubber that walks away from an explosion without turning around.
The plot, as mentioned above, takes a rather typical route to a fairly unsurprising destination, but the journey makes it all worthwhile. Blake Masters‘ script succeeds when focused on the humor, character and camaraderie far better than it does when spitting out the plot turns, twists and double crosses that fill the screen. Few to none of them really come as surprises, but their predictability rarely feels like much of a negative. There isn’t much of a subtext to be found either as, aside from a blanket lambasting of US government agencies, the core message remains simply one of friendship and having each other’s backs. Tone-wise the film leans more comedic than not, and while that’s not a problem for fans of chuckles it does serve to lessen the impact of the occasional very serious events. Think Peter Berg’s sadly under-appreciated The Rundown, and you’ll have a good idea of this film’s comedic leanings. Fewer martial arts midgets here though.
It helps that in addition to the leads the film also benefits from a handful of familiar faces including a hammy Edward James Olmos, a subdued James Marsden, a grizzled Fred Ward and Bill Paxton in full-on hardass mode. He’s basically playing a grown up Chet from Weird Science, and it’s glorious.
Director Baltasar Kormákur worked with Wahlberg on last year’s perfectly okay Contraband, and like that film 2 Guns never feels like it’s trying too hard or aiming too big when it comes to the action. The set-pieces are infrequent at first but never less than a boisterous good time, and just as important they’re shot and edited with an affection for and attention to clarity. We’re never left wondering what’s happening or who it’s happening to, and that’s a sad rarity these days.
2 Guns is far too much fun for an August release, but don’t let the calendar dissuade you from seeing one of the summer’s most entertaining movies. What it lacks in robots and superheroes it more than makes up for in laughs, gunplay and personality.
The Upside: Washington and Wahlberg share some incredibly smooth chemistry; script and performances are frequently laugh out loud funny; exciting and well choreographed action sequences; fantastic supporting cast
The Downside: Some obvious rear-projection during a driving set-piece; action scenes are modest in their ambition and scope; comedic tone takes some of the edge from what should be serious scenes
On the Side: Apparently Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were originally attached in the Washington and Wahlberg roles (respectively). So yeah. We dodged two bullets there.