2 Guns (2013)
“2 Guns, 1 Bank”
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg
Synopsis: A DEA agent and a naval intelligence officer find themselves on the run after a botched attempt to infiltrate a drug cartel. While fleeing, they learn the secret of their shaky alliance: Neither knew that the other was an undercover agent.
There’s a scene early on in Baltasar Kormakur’s 2 Guns in which Stig Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) berates an assortment of heavies for using chickens buried up to their necks as target practice while chomping down on a fried chicken leg. That’s about as subtle as this movie gets, but in its defence 2 Guns never claims to be anything other than a big, noisy summer action blockbuster sprinkled with liberal doses of humour and big explosions. Stig’s outburst comes before we discover that, rather than the drug-dealing career criminal we had believed him to be, he’s actually a Naval intelligence officer working deep undercover in order to relieve a powerful drugs cartel of $3 million dollars with which he believes his superior officer intends to finance bigger and better operations to bring down other drugs cartels. Intended to ultimately be collateral damage in Stig’s undercover shenanigans is his partner-in-crime, Bobby ‘Beans’ Trench (Denzel Washington), who is a long-time associate of drugs baron Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). Only what Stig doesn’t realise is that Trench is actually an undercover DEA Agent working to bring down Greco.
Trench believed he was right on the edge of ‘flipping’ Little Toro, one of Greco’s lieutenants, but all we encounter of Toro is his decapitated head in a bag, a punishment for skimming from Greco’s profits which leaves Trench back at square one. With his superior’s deadline to close the case looming, Trench discloses to his handler and sometime-girlfriend Deb (Paula Patton) that he and Stig are going to rob the Tres Cruces bank in which Greco stashes his ill-gotten gains, believing they’ll be able to nail the drugs baron by tracing the stolen money back to illegal transactions. As plans go, that one sounds shaky in the extreme, but Trench presses ahead with it over Deb’s objections anyway. Although the robbery goes without a hitch, Stig and Trench find that the vault actually contains $43.125 million, a sum considerably higher than they were expecting. They decide to take it all anyway, and that’s when things begin to go wrong.
Deb was supposed to arrange for a small army of police officers to swoop on the Tres Cruces bank five minutes after it goes down, but she never shows, and when Stig pulls up in the desert outside of town, Trench decides it’s time to arrest his buddy and take the money in. Before he can, however, Stig shoots him in the shoulder and then spies the badge Trench was about to produce prior to arresting him. Leaving Trench in the desert, Stig takes the loot to his immediate superior, Captain Quince (James Marsden), and it’s only when he hands it over that he learns he’s been duped and that Quince and his men intend to keep the money for themselves and kill him. With Stig now on the run from the Navy, it’s only a matter of time before his and Trench’s paths will cross again, especially as the powerful owners of all that stolen loot are prepared to use as much violent force as necessary to get their money back.
The success of a buddy movie like this hinges on the chemistry of its two leads, and in Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington 2 Guns finds itself in the fortunate position of having two actors who play off one another with comfortable ease. Wahlberg’s cocky ladies’ man provides a brash counterpoint to Washington’s typically smooth and laid back operator, and despite the disparity in their ages (Wahlberg is 17 years younger than Washington) the movie wisely steers clear of any mentor/protege arcs.
Other important factors contributing to the box office success of a summer crowd-pleaser are a fast pace which (sadly) places few demands on the intelligence of its audience, and a memorable villain. Blake Masters’ screenplay, while never going all out for laughs, seems to fight shy of presenting a believable world — Stig and Trench are running around as fresh as you like following scenes in which they both receive the kind of beatings that would leave us in the real world in hospital beds for a week or more — but it certainly zips along at a rapid clip, pausing only to fill in the barest necessary plot details before diving into the next bout of witty banter or action set-piece. And 2 Guns boasts not just one bad guy, but three: In addition to Olmos’s passively menacing drugs baron, we have Bill Paxton playing against type as a sadistic CIA boss who likes to play Russian Roulette with his unfortunate victim’s nether regions, and James Marsden as a frighteningly single-minded Naval officer.
The story’s momentum carries it beyond the deficiencies of a plot which admittedly borders on the ridiculous at times. It’s true that everyone involved in the story appears to operate in some kind of parallel universe in which the forces of law and order rarely intrude, and in which the probable consequences of any particular action are never a factor in a character’s decision-making process, but despite that, I liked 2 Guns. It doesn’t care that it’s stupid or crass, it just wants to have a good time.
It seems that 2 Guns received some poor reviews for the same reasons that older movies of its genre received positive ones. The stylised violence, the knockabout humour, the prevalence of spectacle over plot, the things that so often pleased the critics back in the 1980s and ’90, now give rise to their rancour. While it can be argued that, as with anything, the cinema should always be looking forward rather than back, it’s also undeniably true that filmmakers are forever forced to re-invent the wheel or, if you like, dress an old doll in new clothes. There’s nothing new about 2 Guns, but a lot of it feels fresh; it has no pretensions, no message to deliver — even though you might feel it’s trying to kid you that it has at times — but it at least tries hard to entertain its audience despite following a familiar path.