Whatever you might think of Mark Wahlberg as an actor (I happen to think he's pretty great under certain circumstances, which I'll discuss), he's the type of performer who adapts and absorbs what's around him. If a great filmmaker or co-star is in the mix, he improves as an actor. And Wahlberg is smart enough to more often than not surround himself with some of the best, whether it's going back as far as working with Paul Thomas Anderson on BOOGIE NIGHTS or the team that worked THREE KINGS or being directed by Scorsese in THE DEPARTED. Hell, I'll even throw in his work in PAIN & GAIN, giving a very different style of comedy performance by working alongside Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie. And of course really sealing his comedic chops with Will Ferrell in THE OTHER GUYS.
But when you place Wahlberg alongside the likes of Denzel Washington in the new 2 GUNS, it unleashes something unexpected as Wahlberg becomes the comic-relief sidekick and an especially cool, charming character who holds his own next to the two-time Oscar winner. When we meet Bobby (Washington) and Marcus (Wahlberg), they are plotting a bank heist when they plan to break into a specific safe deposit box where a drug dealers cash is securely held, somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple million bucks. But when the robbery goes down and they open every box in the bank vaults, every single one is stuffed with cash, totally tens of millions. Naturally, they take it.
We learn that the pair has been working together for about a year plotting the move and getting close to a Mexican drug lord (Edward James Olmos), earning his trust and learning where he hides his money. But once they have it and their a safe distance from the authorities, things go south as they turn on each other for the strangest of reasons. Turns out Bobby is a DEA agent who wants to shut down the drug lord; we find out soon thereafter than Marcus works for naval intelligence, who want to retrieve the cash for his boss (James Marsden). Each thinks the other is a dirty cop, when in fact they are following fairly corrupt orders from higher-ups.
But the big question remains: where did all that bonus cash come from? The answer comes in the form of Bill Paxton as a man named Earl, one of the most delightfully fucked-up characters he's ever played. I figured out pretty early on who he was, but since the filmmakers attempt to keep this a mystery, I won't spill the secret.
Eventually Bobby and Marcus must trust each other and work together to figure out who's on their side, who wants to kill them, whose money they stole, and how to get out of this messy situation with their hearts still beating. Director Baltasar Kormákur (101 REYKJAVIK, CONTRABAND, which also starred Wahlberg) does a great job keeping things movie, pacing his reveals and trying desperately not to make this dopey action film too complicated for its own good. Washington and Wahlberg have a terrific antagonistic chemistry, mocking each other's idiosyncrasies (Wahlberg likes to wink at pretty ladies, Denzel is having a ill-advised affair with a co-worker played by Paula Patton, because he likes the ugly ones) and just generally getting a rise out of each other. If the interplay between those two doesn't work, 2 GUNS fails; but thankfully, it works great. In fact, the movie is only at its best when the pair is on screen together.
The film's deliberately sloppy style, insane body count and brutal violence (the kind that doesn't always lead to death but sure looks like it hurts) will undoubtedly make some of you think of the kind of Walter Hill films that Hill doesn't really do any more, and that's a really awesome trait. It's basically a group of mostly men trying to out-badass each other, and it's surprisingly as fun and effective as it is brutal and cringe worthy. I felt a little short-changed by Patton, who we know can carry her own as she did in the last MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film, but here she basically gets topless, rolls around in her underwear and gets kidnapped. That's not all she does, but that's what you'll remember most, and she looks stunning doing it. But it's a bit degrading, and it marginalizes what she's capable of.
Aside from a big dose of sexism, 2 GUNS is quite a bit of fun that would have been a lesser work in the hands of lesser actors. Throw in choice juicy roles from great like Fred Ward and Robert John Burke, and you'll got a helluva ride. You might even feel slightly ashamed at how much you enjoy and laugh at the film's dopey banter and humor, but it won't last. I don't believe in turning off your brain in order to enjoy any film, but every so often you can relax it a bit.