There are two kinds of machismo. The first is authentic. It comes from guys who are confident, tough, and perhaps a little cocky. The other is posturing. It’s a puffed-up chest and a general over-compensation for a variety of obvious weaknesses. 2 Guns has both, but far more of the latter than the former. The chemistry between leads Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg provide all the spark, verve, and excitement the rest of the picture lacks. Outside of its two leads, Baltasar Kormakur‘s action movie is a lumbering, convoluted mess of various players shuffling around the protagonists through a series of limp set pieces.
DEA Agent Robert “Bobby” Trench (Washington) and Naval Intelligence Officer Michael “Stigs” Stigman (Wahlberg) think they’re playing each other. Neither man knows of the other’s true profession, and have somehow been thrown together to rob a bank in order to bring down a cartel run by drug kingpin Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). When Stigs is hunted by his fellow soldiers for refusing to carry out his order to execute Bobby, and Bobby is framed for the murder of his boss by nefarious CIA enforcer Earl (Bill Paxton), the two protagonists reluctantly team up to track down the money Stigs turned over to his superior officer, Quince (James Marsden), in the hopes of defusing the already ridiculous situation. Along the way, Bobby occasionally interacts with his half-developed love-interest/handler Debbie (Paula Patton).
The opening scenes of 2 Guns are a glimpse of a much better movie that we rarely see throughout the rest of the picture’s runtime. The first 15-20 minutes are less about the movement of the plot, and more about watching Bobby and Stigs bicker and banter. The story easily clips along as the two lay out their bank robbery plan, and then go to their respective handlers to explain how they’ll betray their partner. Thanks to the strength of the performances, we easily forget that these are two guys who have no problem ruining the other’s life, and that their entire relationship is a farce.
But once the betrayers get betrayed and all the other players enter the game, Bobby and Stigs are constantly ripped apart. Every attempt to throw them back together feels like an interlude in the nonsense plot rather than the driving action. These are two actors who I wouldn’t think to put together, but watching Washington’s no-nonsense, deadpan demeanor go up against Wahlberg’s fast-talking, jokey approach is a surprising and welcome delight. I would love to see these two pair up again but in a movie where they’re not constantly distracted by a mess of movie where the only impetus for the story to drive them forward is to create forgettable action scenes.
It’s telling that the best moment in 2 Guns is on the poster. It’s a moment where an explosion and the brandishing and firing of guns have some style and panache. The rest of the action feels more like items on a checklist rather than a considered approach that would actually make the movie better. Kormakur managed to make his previous American movie, Contraband, a fresh take on the action-crime genre, but he couldn’t seem more uninterested with 2 Guns. Most scenes simply consist of people threatening each other with firearms.
This kind of posturing even carries over into the plot as Kormakur tries to cast some semblance of meaning into the vapidity of his picture. The occasional conversation is spruced up with criticism of U.S. foreign policy or the war on drugs or the lack of communication between law enforcement agencies in our government. But the movie never carries any of these ideas through. They’re throw away lines, and they come off like a brainless jock trying to brag about reading an issue of Time.
Kormakur’s movie is always looking for a shortcut even though it has a straight shot with the strength of its two lead stars. It doesn’t need a gratuitous shot of Paula Patton’s breasts or Paxton’s character repeating a tough-guy monologue about how to effectively play Russian roulette, especially when one of the guys he’s interrogating has absolutely no reason to stay quiet. These kinds of moments are staples of the genre, but in the case of this film they never hold anything together. They’re scattered about like ineffective markers that rarely guide us to anything more than a reminder about the genre we’re watching as if the guns and explosions weren’t a tip off In place of an honest, brawny action flick, 2 Guns is all glamor muscles.