With Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos. Written by Blake Masters. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity. 109 minutes.
If you’re manic about spoiler alerts, here’s what you need to know about 2 GUNS: it’s an occasionally comic and very violent action film with a wonderfully convoluted plot. It stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. It’s the sort of movie that challenges film reviewers because almost every element of the story is a surprise. You can stop reading now.
For those who don’t whine about spoilers when, say, someone mentions that the Allies won World War II, here is a carefully-worded review that tries not to give the major elements away. Bobby (Washington) and Stig (Wahlberg) are partners of a sort. We first meet them pulling into a small town diner where Bobby goes to case the bank across the street. He comes back and reports the sage advice that one should never rob a bank across from a diner serving the best donuts in town.
This sets the tone for this crime thriller based on a graphic novel series by Steven Grant. Virtually no one we meet is who they appear to be and the plot peels away like layers of an onion. For example Stig is a flirt––a running joke in the film––and even flirts with the government agent (Paula Patton) who interrogates him when they are stopped at the border. It turns out that the agent is someone already known to Bobby and that doesn’t even begin to unravel their complicated relationship or how it plays out.
Bobby has been putting together a complicated drug deal with a Mexican drug lord (Edward James Olmos) who has some connection with the bank case. That also doesn’t begin to explain anything. For example a sadistic government agent (Bill Paxton) is soon on their trail. What is his connection to all this? It will all be explained by the film’s explosive finale.
Director Baltasar Kormákur has had some success in his native Iceland but has been struggling to get a toehold in Hollywood. His most recent attempt was “Contraband,” an equally contrived thriller with Wahlberg based on an Icelandic film he had produced. Here he’s working with a much tighter script and two leads clearly having fun with the material. This allowed him to focus on the big action set pieces as well as the pacing.
He also has a “big theme” underlying the material, although this is hardly a deep film. The cynicism the movie portrays towards government institutions is as breathtaking as it may be deserved, with the particular representatives here standing in for government as a whole. There’s also an ongoing discussion between Bobby and Stig about whom you can depend upon and why, which actually is saying something serious if one cares to ponder it. Don’t worry if you don’t. This is a big frosted cake of a movie and it tastes just as good if you don’t eat your salad.
There have been several attempts at the buddy action movie this summer, and most of them have been filled with special effects and flopped. “2 Guns” has car chases, shootouts and explosions, but if there’s any use of CGI, it doesn’t call attention to itself. Instead it focuses on its characters and its twisted plot. Maybe that’s why this is the one that works.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.