All you need for a movie are two guys and two guns. Unless that movie is 2 Guns, in which case you probably need a good deal more.
The problem with so many current action movies, this one included, is that once you’ve seen one, you can’t help feeling you’ve seen them all. 2 Guns is directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who gave us last summer’s acceptably entertaining Contraband, an action-thriller with a breezy, agreeable tone. 2 Guns is pretty much more of the same: Even though the plots of the two movies are completely different—this one is adapted from the BOOM! Studios graphic novels by Steven Grant—2 Guns, with its hypercomplicated plot and semi-gritty, just-rolled-out-of-bed visuals, comes off as similar to 1,001 things we’ve already seen. The movie’s pleasures, whatever they may be, stem from a kind of summer-diversion déjà vu. The tagline could be, “If you like things like 2 Guns, you’ll love 2 Guns!” Because it all feels that familiar.
There are a few differentiating, potentially intriguing details, of course. One character is an undercover DEA agent, the action-movie equivalent of a comfy shoe: Denzel Washington’s Bobby Trench works both side of the law, though in the end he’s with the good guys. When he’s consorting with baddies, he just slips in a set of gold fronts and gets to work. Bobby’s partner—or, rather, the guy Bobby works with who doesn’t realize he’s Bobby’s partner—is Mark Wahlberg’s Marcus “Stig” Stigman, a naval intelligence officer gone AWOL. Now that’s something we don’t see every day, and Stig’s gradually unfolding backstory is one of the mechanisms that keeps 2 Guns moving forward.
In the end, we may not learn all we want to know about Stig, but there’s a decent amount of rough-and-tumble gunplay and ludicrous banter in between. Bobby and Stig kick off the proceedings by robbing a small-town bank. Later, we learn more about why. (A Mexican drug kingpin played by Edward James Olmos has something to do with it.) Along the way, they run afoul of a lawman with a weirdly elastic sense of justice—that would be Earl, played by a smooth-talking, bolo-tie-wearing Bill Paxton. Watching him slither so effortlessly between the cracks of right and wrong is one of the movie’s pleasures.
Paula Patton, an extremely appealing presence, shows up now and then, because Denzel needs a love interest. She too plays a DEA agent, and though her role is pivotal, her character is lazily ill-defined. But Kormákur isn’t particularly interested in character development. His strong suit is moving the action along, fast, and he fulfills that duty ably. Perhaps too ably: The convoluted plot demands a lot of rapid-fire expositional dialogue, which is fun at the beginning and eventually grows tiresome. Plus, after a point, nonstop action becomes its own kind of tedium.
Still, there’s some mild fun to be had in watching Washington and Wahlberg bicker and spar. Wahlberg’s Stig may be muscularly endowed, but his vocabulary skills leave something to be desired. He’s charming, in a goofy way, when he calls Bobby a “misanthorpe.” And because the two don’t really like each other—at least not until they learn to love each other—they spend lots of time wrasslin’ like disgruntled twin brothers. That boyish aggression restores a few drops of youthfulness to both of them.
Washington, smooth as a satin sheet, is always devilishly pleasing to watch in his more comic roles, and he doesn’t disappoint here. His scenes with Paxton have an extra-special crackle: Paxton’s Earl wants to recover the millions that have been stolen from him; Washington’s Bobby has some very specific reasons to want to hang on to the money. The two characters talk circles around each other, like fighting birds eyeing each other warily in the ring. But they’re not enough to make 2 Guns memorable. This is a here today, gone tomorrow trifle, albeit one with lots of gunplay. In midsummer, that may be enough, but it’s still a shame that 2 Guns shoots so many blanks.