'2 Guns': Wahlberg and Washington's latest disappoints
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
"2 Guns" gets some good energy from the double-barreled he-man charisma of its two stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Unfortunately, it derives less appealing energy from the hypertrophied and predictable action pyrotechnics overseen by director Baltasar Kormákur. And then there are the ever more eye-rolling twists of its grandiose plot, concocted by Blake Masters, adapting a series of graphic novels by Steven Grant. For some moviegoers, the banter and butt-kicking practically streaming out of the two lead actors will be sufficient for an evening's entertainment. This critic, who is by no means hostile to genre movies, was left unmoved and regretting what might have been had the filmmakers not been so determined to super-size the movie.
Sure, the opening, in which Washington and Wahlberg case a border town bank from a nearby diner and try their bamboozling charms on a teller and a waitress before making an explosive move, covers pretty familiar contemporary caper territory. But since it's these reliable veterans doing their thing, the feeling is like that of a smooth, comfortable ride. This persists for a little while. We learn that the fellows are out to rip off a big Mexican drug lord, played by Edward James Olmos. That's fine. The flashback where Wahlberg's character performs a grisly miracle of chicken-butchering indicates that the movie has little concern for delicate sensibilities. Not a bad thing for a crime picture. A welcome twist comes a little later, when we learn that Washington's character isn't a criminal but a DEA agent. And, hey, wait a minute, Wahlberg's not a skeevy would-be drug runner but a Navy man doing down-low work for his commander, James Marsden, who's not as squeaky-clean as his spiffy uniform makes him look. Another complicating element is Washington's frequently unclad friend-with-benefits, a fellow narc (Paula Patton). Following all this still? Things get even more interesting when Washington and Wahlberg wind up with $40 million above the $3 million they thought they were stealing from that border town bank. This bit is borrowed from a genuine '70s crime classic, "Charley Varrick," a picture in which the violence hurt because you had some emotional investment with the characters. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Once that $40 million is gone, enter Bill Paxton, in a nicely gonzo performance, as the person to whom that money belongs, and who will, as they say, stop at nothing to get it back.
This sounds pretty good, and for a few minutes it is, but once we learn just what organization Paxton's character represents, the movie's general credibility gets a nice swift kick in the crotch. The big-picture stuff in "2 Guns" might have worked in the more fantastic context of the graphic novel, but it's pretty ridiculous here. It doesn't help that the movie then proceeds to upend certain genre conventions in all the wrong ways, not to mention making a half-hearted mini-swerve into attempted social consciousness in a scene in which Wahlberg and Washington are obliged to enter the United States from Mexico the same way so many undocumented immigrants do. Wahlberg and Washington are a pleasure to watch as they play cat and mouse, and then after they inevitably conquer their distrust of each other and carry their payback scheme to a climax that involves an impromptu bull run, among other things. But after a while I got itchy thinking what a pleasure they'd be to watch in a movie that wasn't so full of what was no doubt left behind in great quantity after the shooting of the aforementioned climax.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.