When he makes a movie in his native language, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur often tells stories about confused, angry people who don’t know anyone to trust and end up in deadly jeopardy.
When he makes a movie in English, those people have weapons.
Kormákur and first-time feature writer Blake Masters work that theme cleverly in “2 Guns.” Ignore at least one big coincidence, enjoy the character actors, absorb the chemistry between Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg and wait for the multisided shootout with which the movie has to end (and does). You’ll even get some pleasant plot twists along the way.
The film begins with a surprise, and it’s the only one I’ll describe. We meet Bobby and Stig (Washington and Wahlberg) as they’ve been cheated out of a massive cocaine shipment by Mexican drug kingpin Papi (Edward James Olmos). They decide to rob a bank where he keeps $3 million, neither one realizing that the other is an undercover officer: Bobby works for DEA, Stig for naval intelligence.
But the tiny bank in a sleepy Texas town contains $43 million. After the two blow each other’s covers, they spend the movie trying to dodge bullets from its “rightful” owners and turn it over to an honest person.
Kormákur worked with Wahlberg in the 2012 “Contraband,” which also involved missing drugs and pilfered money, but the director has jettisoned the domestic subplot from that film: The only significant woman in “2 Guns,” Bobby’s DEA co-worker and occasional lover (Paula Patton), gets brought into the tale to advance the narrative, not to stir up Bobby’s emotions.
The director mixes the colors of his palette carefully. He uses (but never overuses) slow-motion, aerial shots, extreme close-ups and quick cuts, avoiding any self-consciously “stylish” display. He varies the pace of scenes and the angle of shots enough to keep the movie flowing, but we never feel we’re watching someone show us how clever he is.
The same is true of supporting performances by Olmos, James Marsden as Stig’s no-nonsense boss, Robert John Burke as Bobby’s equally stone-faced supervisor and Fred Ward as an admiral who has a novel way of dealing with Stig’s dilemma. None goes over the top, but all are memorable. Bill Paxton, playing a CIA agent who brings a sinister attitude and a fondness for Russian roulette to the mix, quietly caps them all.
Kormákur and Masters intend no irony in their adaptation of Steven Grant’s graphic novels.
For all their needling banter, Bobby and Stig are honest, reliable people with each other’s best interests at heart and a desire to do the right thing with the money, until they get cynical towards the end. This isn’t the kind of gangster movie where we root for the least disgusting cockroach to step on the others; we can respect the guys whose point of view we share.
Though the violence is never meant to be funny – a welcome change from most recent bloody films – the combatants’ antics can be. At one point, they both steal small trucks; one chases the other, they end up in a mini-demolition derby, punch each other through the windows and finally tumble out of the cabs into one of the clumsiest (and thus fairly realistic) movie fights I’ve seen lately.
Wahlberg breezes through his part with the cocky unflappability he now brings to most roles. (It’s not stale yet, but….) Washington makes Bobby a little more serious and dangerous, someone to keep foes wary. As an end-of-summer pairing after so many overblown action flicks, they’ll do just fine.
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