After the gritty Contraband last year, starring Mark Wahlberg as an ex-smuggler forced to make one last haul, the actor teams up again with Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur for more action in 2 Guns. It’s a cockier, smarter-mouthed role for Wahlberg who we tend to naturally like and root for as the solid type. Add another charismatic guy in perma-cool Denzel Washington as his partner in crime, and 2 Guns becomes a surprisingly enjoyable contender at the box office this week.
Washington and Wahlberg play two guns for hire, Bobby and Stig, who plan to rob a safety deposit bank that holds the crime proceeds of Mexican drug kingpin Papi (Edward James Olmos). Unbeknown to the other, Bobby is actually an undercover DEA agent and Stig an undercover Naval Intelligence officer; both have been ordered to set the other one up by their superiors. However, when the heist goes wrong and the pair gets away with way more millions in cash than briefed, they find they’ve been set up by their respective authorities, robbing from another powerful organisation that wants its cash back. Soon they’re on the run from this entity, their own bosses and the drug cartel.
2 Guns is based on the Steven Grant graphic novels of the same name, and in a week that sees Kick-Ass 2 released too, this is an action flick with a comic-book visual style that doesn’t reference its origins. Although darker in tone than your average drug cartel film, the emphasis is on action and comedy working hand-in-hand, rather than simply gore. The desert setting feels all too familiar – though beautifully captured – while the twists and counter-twists and outrageous plot set-pieces bolster the film’s arrogant streak.
Adding to this unabashed over-confidence that drives the film’s momentum, Washington and Wahlberg make a highly appealing screen partnership. Wahlberg hands over his stalwart baton to Washington while he explores a wilder side on the edge and provides a lot of laughs with his throwaway retorts. Washington wears one stylish hat after another while keeping his nerve under interrogation in a role we love seeing him play. Throughout, the mismatched pair bickers like an old married couple so fuelling the comedy factor and taking the edge off some of the nastier moments. The permanent sense of unease and distrust of all players adds to the intensity, plus Kormákur’s arthouse influence elevates this production out of the video nasty pile of clichéd drug crime capers.
There are also some great supporting acts from Bill Paxton as the psychotic CIA man, with some fantastic lines delivered to chilling perfection in a Tarantino-esque vein. Olmos embodies the kingpin role with sinister aplomb, complete with an unhealthy interest in cattle. Meanwhile Paula Patton as DEA agent Deb provides the tough cookie eye candy in some eyebrow-raising scenes where flesh and lingerie are flaunted, hence reducing her input to nothing short of Bobby’s love interest (another Déjà Vu for Patton and Washington) rather than a character of interest in her own right.
Kormákur effortlessly varies the shots and keeps a good pace, injecting sporadic brutality to sharpen the senses and emotions that move from thrills to laughs to mindless thrills as things get more explosive. At the core is the pivotal partnership, well cast in Washington and Wahlberg, that transcends the outrageousness surrounding them and provides the fun factor in the process. We could get used to hotheaded wise guy Wahlberg too.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie