'2 Guns' engaging, energetic action comedy capped by charismatic stars
More like "A Kazillion Guns."
That would be a more accurate title for Baltasar Kormakur's zany, amped-up buddy action comedy filled with even more surprises than firearms.
The biggest surprise might be the explosive chemistry between stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, who exchange witty jibes and zesty zingers like gunfire between marksmen.
These two actors are so good at exuding lovable animosity toward each other that "2 Guns" could almost dispense with its frenetic action overkill and just concentrate on the rapport between its two main characters.
When we meet "Stig" Stigman (Wahlberg) and Bobby Trench (Washington), they work as smugglers for a Mexican drug lord named Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) while also apparently casing a New Mexico bank where he stashes his millions in cash.
Quickly enough, we discover that Trench really works for the DEA as an undercover agent, and Stigman really works for U.S. Navy Intelligence.
Each man thinks the other one is a genuine crook who will pop him when their bank job is complete, a nice touch that fills their scenes together with cautious anticipation.
That's pretty much all anyone needs to know about the ridiculously convoluted plot to "2 Guns" without stepping all over the surprises.
It ruins nothing to point out that Bill Paxton emanates easy sleeze as a slightly sadistic, drawling Southern enforcer out to recover the $43.125 million in cash that Stigman and Trench liberate from the aforementioned bank.
Oops. I should have mentioned that Trench and Stigman thought they were going to nab about $3 million in the heist. How did the bank wind up holding $43.125 million?
That's one of the many twists in Blake Masters' pretzel-plotted screenplay, based on the 2008 BOOM! Studios comic book series written by Steven Grant and illustrated by Mateus Santolouco.
The lovely Paula Patton plays Deb, one of Trench's DEA fellow agents and his overly alluring, part-time lover. (Deb is also seeing another fellow, someone so secret and invisible that Trench sarcastically refers to him as "Harvey.")
James Marsden plays Deb's counterpart, Stig's fellow Navy Intel supervisor, a tough military man always on a mission and never affected by mere emotions.
Kormakur, the Icelandic filmmaker who worked with Wahlberg on the generic 2012 thriller "Contraband," directs "2 Guns" with breezy ease, moving the story gingerly along, stopping only for frequent fire fights, car chases and comically hostile verbal exchanges that form the nucleus of the movie's appeal.
Wahlberg comes off considerably more charming here than in any other of his Hollywood characters.
Washington may now be the older guy in the buddy mix, but he proves he can still command our full attention when he's on screen.
But let's not get too effusive.
As Washington and Wahlberg are off making their own jaunty, lighthearted comic buddy romp, the rest of Kormakur's violence-soaked, R-rated action adventure remains anything but jaunty and lighthearted.
Paxton's sadistic spook tortures people with thumb tacks and Russian roulette games (he particularly likes blasting knee caps with bullets). Blood squibs get more work than extras do in this movie.
Even the presumed heroes of the story, Stigman and Trench, have no problem coldly executing villains in between waves of glib and entertaining banter.
So, Kormakur's "2 Guns" suffers from being torn in two directions: The harsh, no-nonsense violence of a Walter Hill thriller and the tongue-in-cheek action of a James Bond adventure.
But it's not 2 bad.
"2 Guns"★ ★ ★
Starring: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, James Marsden, Edward James Olmos
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur
Other: A Universal Pictures release. Rated R for violence, language, brief nudity. 109 minutes