This summer, the Hollywood movie landscape has become increasingly littered with the desiccated corpses of would-be blockbusters which failed to find their audiences, many probably weary of the seemingly interchangeable array of loud, special-effects heavy spectacles offered to them weekly. Those looking for something different, but not willing to go the art house route, will find a very serviceable alternative in 2 Guns, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur's unpretentious, fleet-footed, comedy-infused action film. Based on Steven Grant's five-issue graphic novel series, 2 Guns is solidly built upon the buddy cop movie template, with the snappy banter between stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as essential to its overall effect as the shootouts and fisticuffs.
In many ways, there is a pleasing throwback feel to much of this, both in its emphasis on CGI-free physical action and its echoes of 1970's films by Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill. The handsome widescreen landscapes, shot in New Mexico and Louisiana - images courtesy of cinematographer Oliver Wood - lend a modern Western feel to much of the proceedings. The fine visuals, as well the spirited performances by its actors, are enough to overcome the ludicrously convoluted plotting and very familiar elements - cops, bank robbers, Mexican drug cartels - elevating 2 Guns, however modestly, above most of the Hollywood fare currently on offer.
You'll probably need a scorecard to keep track of the duplicitous goings on in this movie, but here's a quick précis. At the outset, Robert "Bobby" Trench (Denzel Washington) and Michael "Stig" Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) have been infiltrating a Mexican drug syndicate headed by Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). Unbeknownst to each other, the two are working deep undercover, Bobby for the DEA and Stig for U.S. naval intelligence. Their mission on behalf of their bosses requires them to rob $3 million of Greco's money in the course of taking down these criminals. Bobby and Stig stage a robbery at a savings and loan, where the cash is stashed in safe-deposit boxes. It turns out that there's a lot more money there than they expected -- $43 million, to be exact. The chaos that results from this reveals a much larger plot than Bobby and Stig believed they were involved in. The $43 million actually belongs to the CIA, bringing into the mix at least two other men after the money: Quince (James Marsden), Stig's naval superior who wants the money for off-the-books military operations; and Earl (Bill Paxton), a shadowy, menacing operative on the CIA's payroll determined to recover the money by any means necessary. After a rather confusing set of circumstances that at one point has Stig shooting Bobby and leaving him for dead, the two must work together to extricate themselves from an increasingly sticky situation which has their respective former bosses out to kill them.
Director Baltasar Kormakur (101 Reykjavik, Contraband) brings a pleasingly straightforward and unfussy style to the action, and a wryly observational approach to the ever more ridiculously complicated duplicity and double-crosses that occur. Blake Masters' screenplay, while over-plotted and seemingly trying to cram all the incidents of the graphic novel into less than two hours, nevertheless contains some witty and often inspired dialog that concisely draws its characters.
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, in their first onscreen pairing, both impress greatly with their comic chemistry. Washington, especially, is clearly enjoying himself here, and proves equally adept at both the comedic and more physical action-oriented aspects of his role. They both get great support from the rest of the cast, especially by Bill Paxton and Edward James Olmos chewing the scenery as two of the villains; they manage to go well beyond the caricature inherent in their characters.
2 Guns hits US screens on wide release today from Universal.
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