Congratulations Baltasar Kormákur, because you’ve just set the bar for mindless action movies a little bit higher – or lower depending on how you look at it. Reuniting with Contraband star Mark Wahlberg, 2 Guns is absolutely nothing but exploitative, stylistic, and cliched shoot-em-up action that’ll hit you like a guilty pleasure. You won’t want to like it, and some of you definitely won’t on account of Blake Masters’ laughably cookie-cutter screenplay, but for those of you who love explosions, glossy action sequences, and modern takes on Wild-West style shoot-outs, Denzel and Marky Mark have your back.
In a story jam-packed with twists and turns you don’t care for much, two undercover agents named Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) and Marcus Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) unknowingly rob a bank together, as each plans to use the other as a fall guy. Thinking they’re robbing a big-shot Mexican boss-man (Edward James Olmos), our faux-criminals become suspicious when they discover roughly 43 million being stashed in the bank instead of the 3 million they were expecting. Trench becomes even more confused when his DEA buddies aren’t waiting for him outside the bank to arrest Stigman, and is eventually left in the desert with a bullet wound when his partner discovers his true identity. But unfortunately for Stigs, the Navy doesn’t like loose ends, and he becomes a target himself. Blah blah blah, some plot twists happen, but the only thing that matters is Bobby and Stigs stole from the wrong man, they are now in deep trouble, and only have each other to trust.
On a positive note, Wahlberg and Washington are a phenomenal action team and fit the tone very well, providing entertainment through silly bantering, blatant womanizing, cocky badassery, and tons of action-movie swagger. Their characters are almost cartoonish in a way, getting shot with little consequence and walking away from explosions all cool like, but their tone is undeniably entertaining. Are they cheesy, predictable, and nothing but two gunslingers who can’t seem to die? Absolutely.
But it’s Denzel freakin’ Washington, the dude knows what he’s doing! Bobby Trench is the coolest cat on the block, but he’ll still subdue your ass in a second – almost like a modern day Shaft. And Mark Wahlberg? He’s got the quickest mouth in the west, spouting off insults and witty comments with ease, but he’s got the gun to match. Admittedly, I had way more fun than I should have had watching our tremendously f#cked duo run around like you and your buddy in the latest action-packed video game release.
But when I say 2 Guns is mindless fun, I mean mindless as in someone cracked open a skull and scooped out every last ounce of brain matter like a Halloween jack-o-lantern. While there are many gaping holes from all the puncture wounds this script probably suffered while creating its action pieces, there are two moments that stand out in my mind the most that absolutely destroy any sense of storytelling credibility. Minor spoilers to follow.
Hilarious instance number one involves Denzel Washinton’s character Bobby running into Bill Paxton’s CIA agent Earl as he’s interrogating Bobby’s superior officer, Jessup. As Earl realizes Bobby is more use to him alive, he kills Agent Jessup with Bobby’s gun, making it possible to blackmail him with the threat of being arrested for murder. Obviously aggravated by the situation, the heated Bobby Beans throws one last insult at Earl before leaving – he spits on the floor in front of him. Wait, what? Yes. Instead of walking away from the scene of a crime, Bobby instead spits on the ground and leaves his DNA as evidence – so he can get arrested anyway?!
Highlight number two occurs right after Bobby and Stig break onto a naval base with expert stealthiness – and by stealthiness, I mean driving straight through the gate. Obviously drawing the attention of all base security, we watch the two speed away from police officers in nothing but a minivan, with the coppers in hot pursuit. The two need to split up though, and Bobby needs to access a completely different building than Stigs, so what do they do? Stigs pulls the car over casually, Bobby gets out, and he walks up the stairs to a building and hides behind some big column. Um, weren’t there cops right on their tail? OK, even if they weren’t on their tail, couldn’t they still see the van pull over and watch a man walk out?! It was a straight road! Of course this works though, as the cops drive right by Bobby, with his ninja-like walking moves and all, and only chase Stig. Right, of course.
That’s my problem. 2 Guns is cleanly polished visually, full of plenty of the intense action audiences crave, has a tone of ridiculousness that turns the film into a parody of itself, but the material it works with is as dumb as a brick. Proper time and care is put into each over-the-top characterization and gun fight, but not into the details that bring everything together. Masters’ script is shooting blanks, but with Kormákur’s direction, they’re some of the most powerful, flashy, bombastic blanks around. You really have to weigh how much you care about cohesive storytelling against how much you value some testosterone fueled uber-action. Plus, it’s just Denzel being Denzel. The dude’s swaggalicious!
In cinematic terms, 2 Guns has absolutely nailed the “popcorn popper” flick famously, whether it tried to or not. Kormákur’s film has plenty of sassy attitude, spunky perkiness, and decked out blingage in the form of hot whips and devastating weaponry – but it’s all for show. It’s all just a flashy, distracting show to make us forget the story is strung along like fishing wire. No, not because it’s tight – because we can’t see it. Luckily, Wahlberg is no rookie to playing a charming action hero, and Denzel Washington is just better than you, so these two adrenaline junkies are able to manufacture excitement and entertainment with the bare bones tools they’re given. Trust me, all that glitters isn’t gold – but it’s hard to ignore when someone’s having such a good time.
The chemistry between Wahlberg and Washington saves 2 Guns from being a messy, silly, stinker of an action flick, elevating it to a level that falls somewhere in between "glitzy distraction" and "solid time passer."