When people defend a movie as “popcorn entertainment” it’s a term typically reserved for movies with CGI run amok and the equivalent of running into a brick wall over and over again. In my opinion spectacle rarely, if ever, makes up for a lack of story and character development and, as 2 Guns proves, some good casting can also go a long way.
For my money, 2 Guns is exactly what I think of when it comes to popcorn entertainment, a film that takes itself just serious enough to make sense and respects and develops its characters. Yet, it has enough of a sense of humor to laugh at itself and have fun at the same time, reserving pyrotechnics for plot points rather than spectacle alone. The fact Denzel Washington is one of the coolest and most charismatic actors on the planet certainly adds to that, just as does his interplay with Mark Wahlberg, which hits all the right notes as both actors are perfectly within their comfort zone and it shows.
When it comes to Washington and Wahlberg, we all know Denzel is an actor we can rely on, but the last time Wahlberg teamed with director Baltasar KormÃ¡kur the result was Contraband, which gave me plenty of pause walking into 2 Guns. Contraband is the exact opposite of what I described above, taking itself too seriously and in its ticking clock seriousness the stupidity of the scenarios laid before us became annoying rather than tense.
2 Guns doesn’t suffer the same fate, though Paula Patton‘s character and performance threatens to derail the whole thing. Patton was given very little to work with and at the same time you can almost feel her trying to act while both Washington and Wahlberg ease into their characters as if they’ve been these guys their whole lives. For whatever reason she was given the “serious” role while all the men around her get to have fun, including Bill Paxton working every odd fiber of his being, but such is the fate of the female actor in Hollywood. Paula and the rest of the ladies out there, I feel for you.
Without giving anything away (even though the trailers have no problem doing so), 2 Guns is a double-crossing, back-stabbing kind of action, comedy thriller as $43.125 million has been stolen from a Mexican bank and four organizations are laying claim to the bounty. I could probably tell you more without spoiling the film, but there’s no real point. The twists and turns in the narrative aren’t exactly what makes it entertaining, in fact they sometimes just get in the way of the fun being had while watching Wahlberg and Washington do their “thing”.
At this point in his career it’s quite clear Wahlberg is at his best when he’s working with some sort of comedic bend. Even in his Oscar-nominated role in The Departed he was funny and if you were to take that character and dial his maturity level down to that of a 16-year-old (much like his role in The Other Guys) and up his sense of loyalty you’d have his character here, Michael Stigman, or Stig as he’s most often referred.
Denzel plays Robert Trench, or Bobby Beans as he’s most often referred, and he’s more the hard-boiled type opposite Wahlberg, but the two characters play nicely together as the screenplay only frequently plays to their differences for dramatic effect, though there is a brief falling out, which is to say the film isn’t completely void of familiar tropes.
2 Guns was adapted from the Boom! Studios graphic novels by Blake Masters whose work has been relegated to television shows such as “Brotherhood” and “Law & Order: LA”. I’m not sure how much was lifted straight from the novels and how much is Masters’ own doing, but it moves at a relative quick clip and had the 109-minute running time been snipped by about 5-8 minutes it would have really shaped up quite nicely. In fact, snipping Patton’s narrative entirely, or giving her something a little more fun to do rather than simply give her a ridiculous nude scene (which was amazingly her idea saying it’s “all about the art”) followed by a batch of rudimentary “plot building” moments. Anything would have been better, anything.
When it comes to the direction, KormÃ¡kur is still a bit of a loose cannon, especially with the way he starts the film off with a “one week earlier” flashback after a brief “What’s going on?” moment. The point of foreshadowing what’s to come was pointless in this case outside of proving they didn’t know how else to start the movie. Here’s an idea, just start it.
Additionally, all the guessing games the film offers (which are essentially spoiled by watching one trailer) don’t add up to much in the way of “ah ha” moments as the only real reason to keep watching is to hear Wahlberg’s next one liner and his back-and-forth with Denzel, or to see how they deal with the series of roadblocks that get in their way including James Marsden as a Naval officer and Edward James Olmos as a Mexican drug lord.
Despite any nit-picking quibbles, of the films I’ve seen this year, 2 Guns is one of the few “pure entertainment” movies I’ve witnessed. It’s equal measures comedy and action with two actors working in a groove. It’s not perfect and has plenty of flaws, but there is so much fun to be had from start to finish it’s a shame Universal has essentially buried the picture with lackluster marketing to the point it feels as if they wished they didn’t have to release it all.