2 Guns has all the necessary ingredients of the buddy cop genre – Two unlikely allies, equally savvy and skilled, forced together by circumstance and resisting each other every step of the way with fists, gunfire, and witty quips until the ruthless bad guys force them to partner up one last time, inevitably leading to true friendship and an explosive finish. It’s all there.
But where we might get lost in predictability, this story employs a few tactics to keep us hanging on. Based on a comic book series that’s been called the “twistiest, smartest, most clever story of the year,” the plot follows federal agents Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) and Marcus Stigman (Mark Wahlberg), who stage a bank robbery in order to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel. Things quickly take a turn – there’s not one trickster, but two, as they each learn that the other is working undercover for a competing bureau. There’s double the betrayal as both agencies sell them out. They steal not $3 million, but $43 million, in the bungled heist. And they’re subsequently chased by not one, but three different factions in the “war on drugs,” each with its own set of terrifying henchmen looking to recover the money. It’s all wildly unbelievable, and plenty of fun.
Washington and Wahlberg are an evenly matched duo, trading verbal jabs with a chemistry we haven’t seen this side of 48 Hrs and Lethal Weapon. Wahlberg gives slightly more comic relief as overeager gun-wielding “Stig” as Washington brings his trademark cool to Trench. Apparently the comic book version of Trench was written younger, and whiter, and having Washington in the role adds a bit of depth as characters seem to regard him as the world-weary pro who’s seen it all. Filling out the star-studded cast are Paula Patton as Trench’s DEA handler and sometimes girlfriend, James Marsden as Stig’s callous NCIS superior, Edward James Olmos as the hardened drug kingpin, and a scene-stealing Bill Paxton as the CIA bulldog unleashed to reclaim the stolen money.
The movie’s straightforward visuals also call back to the height of the buddy film era. While there are plenty of stunts and explosions, there’s a relative lack of CGI which, coupled with the rolling Western landscape, gives the film an almost vintage feel. What seems new about the movie is the somewhat political messaging underlying the plot. The various levels of trickery that Trench and Stig are exposed to – in drug policy, law enforcement, the military, even immigration policy – point to the inherent corruption of federal agencies, an interesting if unexpected message in a film that’s otherwise light in tone. At one point, the pair are made to smuggle themselves across the Mexican border, giving a glimpse into the plight of the immigrant community surrounding them.
Overall, 2 Guns is like an adventurous romp through a modern Western. It offers enough charm in its two leads that it should please action fans, Denzel fans, and others looking for a lighthearted time.