It's weird how you can talk about something in a casual conversation and then that very thing happens to you just a few hours later. I was talking movies with a friend and he was giving me crap for liking Bullet to the Head. I justified it by saying I can forgive a lot of things in a movie, especially an action movie, if it delivers on what I expect. Like, if a movie has a few good action scenes, a great villain or supporting performance, or funny dialog, then I can look past some shaky acting or plot elements. Later that evening, I watched 2 Guns and got that freaky sense of deja vu.
Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) and Marcus Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) are working with the Mexican underworld. After a deal goes south with crime lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), they rob a bank where they know Greco usually keeps about three million bucks in safe deposit box. It's revealed early on that Trench is really an undercover DEA agent. After the bank heist, Trench moves to bring Stigman in, only Stigman beats him to the punch. Turns out Stigman is working undercover for the military and was going to bring Trench in. That these two are really undercover is also spoiled by the trailer, so thanks for that, trailer makers.
Now here's where things get head-spinningly convoluted. Rather than the three million expected, there's closer to over 40 million, so the pair suspect something's amiss. After Stigman turns the money in back to his commander (James Marsden), they turn on him and try to kill him. The DEA similarly turns their backs on Trench. There's a third, mystery person (Bill Paxton) after them too, and don't forget that Papi Greco wants his money back as well. Trench and Stigman are are forced to team back up to track down the money and find out why everyone wants them dead.
2 Guns suffers from something I've complained about lately where you have too many players, too many people whose motivations are unclear, and back stabbing and double crossing galore. It's needlessly busy and complex. We're more than halfway through the film before we finally figure out what's going or who some of these people actually are. I feel like with some of these films they are so afraid of being called dumb, that they add all these extra twists and turns to keep you guessing. Simple and cliched is fine when done well.
However, simple can work against you, too. Multiple times in the film a character will have no real plan for what they are about to do, but it all works out anyway. There's one long sequence where they break into Stigman's base where they plan is little more than, "I'm gonna cause a diversion, and you just wander around casually and nobody will notice you." It's as if the characters all knew in advance where to be and when. Then, the climax suffers from 'big, dumb action' syndrome where you see all the typical crap you hate in a movie; people casually walk away from explosions, there's a Michael Bay-style, slo-mo-spinning shootout (the poster at the top is no exaggeration), etc. There are some well executed scenes though. When director Baltasar Kormákur can stay away those types of action cliches he does a good job, and some of the scenes actually had a humorous tone to them, despite that they didn't pull many punches. It's a violent film for sure. Maybe it's because I saw this on RPX, but I thought the sound really pounded the feel of the action into you.
The strength of Blake Masters screenplay is that the dialog is very fun throughout. It's not all silly one liners either. The banter between Trench and Stigman is often hilarious, and the two felt like old friends or brothers. Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg really sell it and the chemistry between the two of them is fantastic. They're such a good pairing that it makes you hope for a sequel where they've set up their own private investigator business or as partners in another buddy cop film. I was actually reminded of Lethal Weapon in parts. They really made the film worth watching and it just goes to show you that if you get two actors that are committed and work well together, they can elevate the material.
The supporting cast is rounded out with James Marsden, who once again seems criminally underused. Admiral Adama (Olmos) is good in his limited role, and I like that he's starting to take on more bad guys in recent roles. Paula Patton's character is one where her motivation was all over the place. It's not her best work, but at least she finally gets a chance to show her 'assets'. My favorite of the supporting roles was Bill Paxton who has a fun, scenery-chewing performance. It's the best I've seen him in a while, and continues to prove the rule that it's more fun to play a villain. I'm still begging for him to do a movie as Chet from Weird Science.
2 Guns is a cliched and messy story, but it's elevated by the great chemistry and performances of Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Fans of old-school action films should get a kick out of the (mostly) fun action, and banter between the characters. I was a little nervous that I wasn't going to enjoy this, but I had a good time and felt it was a good movie to start August with.
3 (out of 5) Death Stars