Attending the screening of “2 Guns” was a remarkable feeling of déjà vu. It has a pair of enjoyable leads who do their best, but don’t make much of an impact. It uses humor to elevate itself a little above the drudgery of the material, but can’t quite overcome what it is: a big, noisy action flick. All of these things also perfectly described the recent “White House Down,” which was likewise funny, but couldn’t help being what it was. As soon as it becomes clear that “2 Guns” is headed down the same path, you can’t help but hope for a better result.
The film follows two undercover agents, Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) of the DEA and Marcus Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) of Navy Intelligence, who at first don’t even realize that the other is working undercover. Together, they team up to rob a bank that they believe holds the funds of a drug kingpin, only to realize that it holds much more than they originally thought. After the robbery, they discover who the other is working for, which leads to complications in their relationship. It’s not long before several parties come looking for the money, putting both of their lives at great risk and forcing them to work together once again to put an end to the situation.
Getting right to the heart of the matter, the main problem that “2 Guns” faces lies in its plot. The simplified summary of the narrative above only begins to describe it. This is one of those stories that the writer (Blake Masters) tries to make clever by making it far more convoluted than it needs to be, so instead of getting to focus on the two main characters and their predicament, we’re forced to focus on all of the different characters that are throw in. It becomes somewhat of an interesting paradox. The story is really simple, yet he chose to make it complicated, only to end up bogging it down in the attempt.
That’s not to say there aren’t things to like about it. As I mentioned above, it has a really good sense of humor which helps it along through what would normally be a slog of an action film. This is due in no small part to the lead performances of Washington and Wahlberg, who do the best they can with the material at hand. Their on-screen chemistry works better than one would think, leading to a lot of perfectly timed zingers and a camaraderie that feels natural and genuine. I’d love to see these two pair up again, but with a better screenplay to give them better support.
This being an action flick, there are also multiple action sequences that actually come off pretty well. It’s not overly-inundated with them as some action films tend to be, but rather has a few spread evenly throughout the film, so you don’t have the chance to be overwhelmed and eventually bored with them. These sequences include ones you would normally expect: chases, fights, explosions, and even a well-staged escape scene. It’s somewhat refreshing not to have to complain about having too much action in an action film for once, so at least on that level, it’s to be commended.
Speaking of the action, the film does succumb to one pitfall in this area, that being the climax in the third act. Like many other films of the genre, it all comes down to a big shootout that is rather bland and clichéd-filled. To give you just a quick idea, part of it has Washington and Wahlberg back to back, firing their guns in all directions while it’s raining money. Not that there was any kind of peaceful solution that could have been reached, but something a little more clever and original would have been much preferred rather than seeing something we’ve seen in dozens of other similar films.
This is Masters’ first shot at a theatrical screenplay, so perhaps he was just falling back on what so many writers have already done as a kind of safety net. However, writers tend not to make themselves known unless they’re willing to take risks by doing something different. Here was a chance to do just that, but instead he just let it slip right by. The other possible explanation for it is that, since he was basing it off of a series of graphic novels, it might not have even been his choice, but I’d like to think that if the ending in the novels was unsatisfactory, someone somewhere along the line would have authorized a bit of a rewrite.
“2 Guns” comes from director Baltasar Kormakur, whose name you may remember from the underrated action film “Contraband” from last year. There was an actioner that was engaging from start to finish thanks to several good twists and turns that didn’t bog the story down, but served it rather well. With films like this, there’s no need to complicate things. Give good doses of plot and action in turn with plenty of unexpected twists along the way and the audience will thank you for it in the end. “2 Guns” had the potential to be something decent, particularly with its leads and good sense of humor, but the foundation is cracked and flawed, and unfortunately nobody bothered to notice. 2.5/4 stars.
Starts tonight at theaters everywhere.
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