Undercover and Underwhelming

Washington and Wahlberg don’t bring much to 2 Guns

2 Guns initially resembles one of those complex logic puzzles from school: “If an undercover DEA agent and undercover naval intelligence officer both try to infiltrate the same Mexican cartel, how long will it take for each of them to realize that the other is not who they appear to be?” However, as it grows increasingly preposterous, it becomes apparent that Baltasar Kormákur’s latest Hollywood effort is simply another one of those action flicks in which logic is the first casualty.

In reworking 101 Reykjavík, his Icelandic debut, for last year’s Contraband, Kormákur attempted to balance all the tough-guy posturing with some relatable concerns by having the misdeeds of Mark Wahlberg’s smuggler motivated by his intense devotion to his family. There are no such efforts made to ground the material here. Having apparently sated his interest in genuine characters with the small-scale survival drama The Deep, Kormákur is now content to deliver a mindless shoot-’em-up populated by action figures and cartoonish baddies.

Cruising around in a vintage Dodge Challenger, the DEA’s Bobby (Denzel Washington) and Navy’s Stig (Wahlberg again) make for such convincing badasses that they even have each other fooled. Indeed, the hook here is that, having been assigned by their respective agencies to infiltrate a crime syndicate, each assumes that that other is a criminal. It’s only once they’ve robbed a bank together (in order to secure evidence, naturally) that they realize each other’s actual allegiances.

In the early going, 2 Guns mostly subsists on its scripted-within-an-inch-of-its-life banter. As Bobby and Stig bicker over breakfast options and debate appropriate gratuities, you’ll be excused if you find yourself thinking of post-Pulp Fiction fare such as Things to Do In Denver When You’re Dead (likely for the first time since its end credits rolled back in the mid-’90s). Alas, none of the rapid-fire dialogue found here is notable, much less quotable.

Operating on autopilot, Washington is so smooth that you don’t initially realize just how disengaged he is here. However, much like Bobby refuses to call a fellow DEA agent (Paula Patton) his girlfriend — he just likes to have her around for topless post-coital chats — Washington hasn’t much interest in committing to, much less elevating, the middling material he’s handed here. Unfortunately, Wahlberg takes this opportunity to check his work ethic at the door and join his co-star in swaggering, winking and nudging his way through most scenes.

That aforementioned bank job — which earns some style points for its use of unnecessarily detailed latex masks — kicks the plot into gear and sics a handful of adversaries on our heroes. Bill Paxton is a crooked CIA agent who apparently fancies himself to be “God’s son of a bitch” but proves too wooden to pull off the supposedly unhinged sadist that’s been penned for him. Meanwhile, a huffy James Marsden looks like he’s in a snit that screenwriter Blake Masters didn’t even bother giving him a chance to squander any oddball traits as a corrupt Navy officer.

Such a lack of invention plagues much of 2 Guns, with its dearth of clever ideas epitomized by someone’s decision to stow millions of dollars under a mattress. (It’s an unfortunate reminder that Contraband’s lamebrained master plan involved shoving illicit materials into a hole in a wall.) As the implausibilities mount, the excitement level is slow to follow suit. After backing itself into a corner, Kormákur’s film has no other option than to try and shoot its way out. And as Washington and Wahlberg open fire while being literally showered in cash, Kormákur finally stumbles across something that sticks: a single image that captures both the idiocy and excess that fuels the majority of Hollywood’s current action flicks. 

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