Did “2 Guns”… happen? It seemed there was a screening for the new action film. And it had Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Or is that just a memory from the overt billboards and advertisements, boasting both stars aiming guns with the title superimposed in front of them? There was some shooting, right? Why does it feel like the memory of this film is clutched in Leonardo DiCaprio’s arms as he whizzes through crumbling architecture to the braaaaaaaams of Hans Zimmer’s score? Should “2 Guns” be explained by Ellen Page frantically asking a series of questions?
There’s nothing about “2 Guns” that doesn’t feel prefab, like someone poured a packet of Insta-Movie into a glass of water. It’s certainly not a stretch for these two stars, neither of whom has much chemistry with the other. Washington and Wahlberg are Bobby and Stig, a couple of smooth-talking pushers working their way up from inside a Mexican cartel, escorting goods past the border under the guise of being a couple of bantering goons. What neither knows is that both are undercover, Bobby working for the DEA and Stig employed off-the-books for the Navy.
When the two of them agree to rob the cartel, an aberration in their plan has the duo side-eyeing each other: somehow a $3 million payday has now become a $43 million score. With this being the case, the two of them reveal their identities, removing the bulk of the tension from the film early in the first act. Stig suspects something’s up, but won’t completely betray his partner, so he leaves Bobby for dead in the desert with the sort of flesh wound that movie characters regard with a shrug.
The good news is that “2 Guns” smartly stacks the deck with villainy, allowing baddies to come from all sides. Edward James Olmos is the crusty cartel head, at one point seen from the bottom up, urinating on his hands to toughen his palms. It’s perfectly in line with this film’s view of Hispanics, mostly undocumented immigrants, who are both tough as nails and absolutely disgusting (unless they have a nice rack for Wahlberg to ogle). James Marsden brings a level of white collar smarm to his duplicitous Navy turncoat, proving that all it takes is a little recontextualizing to turn his All-American charisma and good looks into a threat. And Bill Paxton, having the time of his life, tries on an inconsistent Southern accent as a CIA bigwig with a nose for the cash.
The bad news is that “2 Guns” ties these threads together through a series of unsurprising and uninvolving plot twists, walking the audience through a series of dialogue exchanges so tiresome that they might as well be interrupted by an unobtrusive banner at the bottom of the screen announcing “TNT: WE KNOW DRAMA.” This is a programmer, all right, the kind which no one should really be ashamed, destined to find its prime audience with those flicking channels late at night, seeking something that will merely grab their attention. It’s not terribly complex, and the only meaningful relationship by the time we reach the final reel is between Washington and Wahlberg, not their characters.
It is refreshing to see Washington show up in something this frivolous. In his early scenes, he’s acting out the role of criminal, complete with shady posture and gold teeth, as if making a mockery of the many flash villains Washington has essayed over the years. Once this front is dropped, however, he’s back to being his surly, downbeat self. Wahlberg, to his credit, seems to be trying to urge Washington to let loose, to no avail. When Stig perks up at one of Bobby’s suggestions, asking, “We’re gonna be partners?!?” with Wahlberg’s typical boyish glee, it’s as if he knows that “2 Guns” wants to be a silly buddy action comedy, and he’s trying with all his might to drag Washington into the genre, kicking and screaming.
There’s some faint, barely topical lip service paid to the idea of illegal immigration in a scene where Bobby and Stig are forced to cross the border with a group of illegal immigrants. None of the Mexican characters surrounding our heroes have lines, or in fact any actual face-time. The sequence is scored obtrusively by a song from Rome, the music project by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, which set out to pay homage to compositions of yesterday’s spaghetti westerns by utilizing modern pop ingredients and distractingly familiar vocalists like Jack White and Norah Jones. It’s the perfect metaphor for “2 Guns,” which fancies itself as a modern echo of a Peckinpah-era idea of machismo, one that only reads as a distaff copy of a copy of a copy. Insight is constantly trumped by tired populism, where heroes laugh as they champion animal brutality and cheer waterboarding. Perhaps in the sequel, they’ll add an extra gun to the title. [C-]