Review: Wahlberg and Washington in 2 Guns

The charismatic stars lift this breezy action thriller a good bit above the routine, writes Donald Clarke

2 Guns
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Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Cert: 15A
Genre: Action
Starring: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Fred Ward, James Marsden
Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins

The buddy movie is (or was) such a staple of American cinema that it comes as a surprise – when reminded of the genre's existence by a film such as 2 Guns – to realise that Hollywood doesn't really make them any more.

Well, that's not quite true. We still get the odd film in which a talking aardvark squabbles with a similarly verbose spider monkey. We get pastiches of the genre such as The Other Guys. But the offbeat thriller in which Uptight Bloke A shouts at Oaf with Stained Tie B seems to be yet another victim of superhero thinking. If you're not wearing a leotard, we just aren't interested.

2 Guns proves to be a very decent addition to the neglected form. It helps that Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg make such a lively (if not sufficiently differentiated) pair, and that Baltasar Kormákur, Icelandic director of the excellent Jar City and The Deep, is prepared to layer on the morbid Nordic humour. This class of sleek bickering comes along all too rarely.

The picture hangs around a neat conceit that has been waiting too long for exploitation by mainstream film-makers. We follow two bank robbers as they plan their next big job. After walking away with more money than expected, "Stig" Stigman (Wahlberg) and Bobby Trench (Washington) discover that both are different sorts of undercover agents: Stig is employed by naval intelligence; Bobby works for the Drug Enforcement Agency. One is reminded of that ancient New Yorker cartoon that finds one hippie turning to others in a drug lair and remarking: "So, we're all undercover journalists doing a story on the dangers of heroin?"


Anyway, to this point, the team has been toying with a stereotypically sleazy Mexican drug lord whose tentacles reach across the border and deep into Texas. As events progress, a wider conspiracy involving the CIA and Stig’s Navy handlers unfolds. Illegal payments are being made over there. Double-crosses happen over here. Points about the inherent rottenness of law enforcement are made along the way.

In truth, the over-complicated plot is a bit of a bore. Rather than assembling an intricate web of connecting strands, the writers have devoted their time to pulling the carpet from beneath the heroes at every available opportunity. After a short time, the narrative slapstick becomes just a little repetitive and more than a little exhausting. If the actors were a degree less charismatic, it would be very easy to lose interest.

Happily, Washington and Wahlberg know what they're up to. Racial sensitivities being what they now are, we hear none of the uncomfortable epithets that coloured Walter Hill's buddy classic 48 Hours three decades ago. The interactions are closer to those between Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That's to say they don't really rub up against each other that much.

The worried Stig is (as you’d expect from Wahlberg) a little less intelligent and a little less in control than (as you’d expect from Washington) the relaxed Bobby. It is, however, possible to imagine the roles being reversed without any serious damage being done to the character dynamics.

Shot in sweaty, blotchy colours by Oliver Wood, cameraman on the Bourne films, 2 Guns occasionally threatens to turn into a contemporary version of Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (with the same unreconstructed approach to Mexico). But when extreme violence looms, Kormákur always pulls back for another sharp, deflating quip.

“Never rob a bank that’s across the street from a diner with the best doughnuts in three counties,” the guys spout at every turn. Don’t say you haven’t learnt anything today.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist