Denzel Washington and Mark Whalberg buddy up in this adaption of Stephen Grant’s blockbuster graphic serial 2 Guns. And buddy is the right word. Both of them are having so much fun, even though they are supposed to have only just met, even though they are initially trying to blow chunks out of each other’s sternums, you get the feeling that W1 and W2 have been doing this a long time. There’s an easy charm to the banter and the horse play. They spend more time fighting each other that they do the bad guys but it looks more like brothers play fighting in the sandbox than two trained law enforcers trying to take each other down. It betrays a mutual likability these two simply cannot hide from the cameras, especially when you take into account how efficiently they take out everyone else.
Washington is a DEA agent, while Whalberg is special forces. They’ve both been pretending to be drug dealers and are so good at it the other one thinks they really are. Both men plan to rob a bank with a stash worth millions, both plan to come clean at the end and turn their partner in. Even when they figure out the other isn’t who they claim to be it takes a while for them to realize what is really going on and even longer for them to admit they might need the others help. This makes the plot seem a bit meandering at times but the games they play with each other are far more interesting than the cat and mouse games they play with dozens of nameless, faceless thugs coming after them for the contents of the bank.
For the enemy to really make their jeopardy worthwhile they need a character willing to step up to the mark and raise the steaks. Enter Bill Paxton, complete with Panama Hat and a southern drawl as thick as corn syrup. If any of the scenes in 2 Guns will stay with you they belong to Bill. He has the passive aggressive charm of the snake that offered Eve the apple. He’s a gentleman and a scholar and he can play a game of Russian roulette like Gould plays Bach. What’s truly disconcerting about the character is the amount of genuine fun Paxton seems to be getting out of pointing a gun at Denzel Washington’s balls.
Even if none of them can match up to that level of piano wire tension, 2 Guns is full of clever little moments that take full advantage of their stars endless supplies of natural charisma. Washington is playing a role he mastered two decades ago and Whalberg is playing what most of us would really like to believe is real life Mark Whalberg. Their chemistry is instant, the jokes are funny, their delivey is charming and the lines are witty. That relationship pairs up with a snappy script to create some great scenes that elevate this film above the majority of what this summer’s offerings have spat out at us so far.
It’s a good thing too because without them this film would end up below most of them. For as much as it gets its central relationship right, it makes many of the same mistakes that Summer Blockbusters are clichéd for making. Whalberg never looks like he is taking the people he has supposedly sworn vengeance against seriously. Washington looks like he would rather have sex with Mark than with his on screen lover. As a result the love story acting as the duos main motivation goes nowhere, leaving the film’s sole female character with nothing to do but sit around, sulk and get shot at.
There’s great moments in 2 Guns but that’s it. There’s nothing holding them together. The plot is almost non-existent. There’s times when it tries to give itself the dignity of a theme, like when they are forced to cross the border like Mexican immigrants or when Whalberg is told he faces a discharge to save the navy face. But it lacks the conviction to carry its themes forward to a conclusion. As a result the overall arch of the story is inconsistent, insubstantial and weak. It’s like a fat guy trying a marathon, it runs in bursts then it gives up lacking the will, the conviction and the physical capability to give it a solid try.
2 Guns has the confidence to be a good Friday night distraction but doesn’t have the confidence to take it any further than that. It’s a shame too because the people who came up with dialogue and characters as good as this are definitely capable of doing so much more with the material they can create.