"2 Guns" Mostly Loaded With Blanks

Denzel Washington rides into “2 Guns” off a career high point – an Oscar-nominated turn in Robert Zemeckis’ “Flight” – while Mark Walhberg limps into view, his recent struggles encapsulated by two 2013 duds – “Broken City” and “Pain & Gain.” So, it’s no surprise that “2 Guns” sees the two stars meet somewhere in the middle. The film isn’t in the same galaxy (much less the same ballpark) as their best work, but it’s also not so much of a disaster as to incite any kind of mutiny from their respective fanbases. No, it’s just another disappointing summer movie in a summer that’s been full of them.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur has a relatively lucid visual eye that serves the action-comedy genre well, but Blake Masters’ screenplay is bizarrely lacking in both action and comedy. What’s left is a half-baked story about dueling (but friendly) undercover agents, Bobby (Washington) of the DEA, and Stig (Wahlberg) of the Navy, waltzing through a “rinse and repeat” throughline about money and drugs. After an initial miscommunication with drug kingpin, Papi (Edward James Olmos), the duo steals $43 million, loses $43 million, finds $43 million, and loses it again. Et cetera.

The hook? The hook is that neither one of them knows that the other is undercover. They’re both using each other to get what they – and their bosses – want. It’s an interesting angle that’s never fully fleshed out – like it was masterfully in “The Departed” – ultimately serving to move the story along instead of building any kind of interesting rapport between the characters. The screenplay is built on multiple layers of deception, but the lies never accrue in the way they should. Instead of using deceit to build tension, the screenplay lets most of the potential drama fall by the wayside.

The banter between Washington and Wahlberg is uniformly weak, until the film’s final minutes when the chemistry kicks in effortlessly, leaving us to wonder where that spark was all along. Thankfully, the villain of the piece provides some of that withheld levity. Bill Paxton plays the pic’s main baddie, Earl, corrupt something-or-other who’s fond of Russian Roulette, but not at the expense of getting the information he wants. No, he likes to aim his weapon at knees and crotches, all the while explaining why he likes aiming his weapon at knees and crotches.

Paxton’s performance is wonderfully droll, reminding everyone how underrated an actor he is, but his character inexplicably drops out of the narrative for the better part of an hour. Supporting player Paula Patton – as Deb, cohort and sometimes-lover of Washington’s character – isn’t up to the task of filling that void, nor does she add much to the film at all, outside of some absurdly gratuitous nudity. No, without Paxton’s presence for much of the second and third acts, the film’s fate rests squarely with its dueling stars.

Mark Wahlberg is as loose here as I’ve ever seen him, essentially charming his way through the role, while Denzel looks decidedly sleepy. It’s not Washington’s fault that his character is an empty vessel, but he looks as uninterested in the story as I was. And had I been paid that handsomely for the experience, I could have mustered some more enthusiasm. By the climax, in which the duo literally shoots their way through torrents of falling cash, we’re left to wonder if the whole film was engineered for that moment, the entire project designed around a proposed poster image.

No one should be surprised that “2 Guns” is all about its leads. Aside from the occasional Bill Paxton sighting, it practically demands that we tune out everything but Wahlberg and Washington. And in turn, the result is predictably predictable. Star power can only carry a film so far, and in the face of narrative monotony, it’s undoubtedly not enough. “2 Guns” isn’t so bad as it is shortsighted – moments of fleeting fun punctuated by the unshakeable feeling that “this really should be better.” As is, it’s not deserving of its cast.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: August 2, 2013
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Screenwriter: Blake Masters
Starring: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, James Marsden
MPAA Rating: R (for violence throughout, language and brief nudity)