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Review: 2 Guns (2013)

2 Guns (2013)

Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur

Premise: A DEA agent and a naval officer (Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg) go undercover to bring down a drug cartel but when the operation goes bad the pair must go on the run from corrupt government officials and cartel enforcers.

What Works: In a summer movie season that has featured so many films with grandiose set pieces (and often been worse for it) and action pictures that can barely be described as coherent, 2 Guns is a welcome relief. Compared with its competition, 2 Guns is relatively small in scale with narrow ambitions but that pays off for the movie. This is not a picture about saving the world but its immediacy makes it involving in a way that a lot of Hollywood’s overproduced spectacles are not. Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg play the leads and the actors are in familiar form. Each of them has played these roles before in movies like Man on Fire, Out of Time, Safe House, Contraband, We Own the Night, and Shooter but they do this hardboiled genre piece well. Washington and Wahlberg make for an amusing on screen pair and in addition to their machismo the two are very funny together. (Incidentally, Wahlberg produces a lot more laughs in this role than he did in a similar part in the Will Ferrell comedy The Other Guys.) The cast of 2 Guns also includes Bill Paxton as a mysterious enforcer pursuing the two men and Paxton is an impressive villain. He’s threatening without being over the top and he turns a stock genre role into a distinct character. Aside from its cast, 2 Guns also benefits from a script that balances a lot of characters and agendas. Washington and Wahlberg’s characters have at least three parties on their tail and the filmmakers alternate between the threats, consistently complicating the story and escalating the stakes without the narrative becoming incoherent. As silly as the movie can be, it is generally clear where the characters are going and why and that basic storytelling clarity distinguishes 2 Guns from many other action pictures of late. 2 Guns is also a lot of fun. The humor between the leads and the colorful supporting characters keep the tone upbeat, the chases and gun fights are sufficiently thrilling, and the movie features unexpected moments of brutality that give it some edge. 

What Doesn’t: 2 Guns is an acceptable movie but it is by no means great. The banter between Washington and Wahlberg recalls Riggs and Murtaugh of Lethal Weapon but 2 Guns is really a descendant of exploitation movies like Death Wish and Shaft. The exploitative roots of this movie are clearest in the scenes involving the love interest played by Paula Patton. On the scale of female objectification her scenes are barely noteworthy but they do nevertheless recall the unnecessary nudity of a Roger Corman production. The exploitative elements of 2 Guns are not entirely to its detriment. In fact, they often work in its favor since they do give the movie some grit and character, something missing from more polished Hollywood productions. But the story is absurd with a ludicrous premise and random plot twists. The turns in the action keep the movie from getting rote or dull but the story runs out of steam before it gets to the climax. 2 Guns reaches its conclusion well before it ends and so the screenwriters prolong the movie with a silly shoot-out finale that serves no narrative purpose and is out of sync with the rest of the picture. It is as though the screenwriters wrote themselves into a narrative corner and realized that the existing ending was a downer and rewrote the conclusion, packing it with action movie clichés to fulfill marketplace expectations.

Bottom Line: 2 Guns is not an especially ambitious or imaginative movie and A-list actors Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg are slumming in a picture that could quite easily have been a direct-to-video feature starring Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme. But 2 Guns is competently made and possesses just enough fun to justify its existence.

Episode: #451 (August 11, 2013)