Say one thing for “2 Guns” — it certainly deconstructs the “buddy movie” while turning many of its clichés on their heads. Pity that the filmmakers lacked the courage to go all the way in their genre bending.
What confounds such mischief, assuming anyone even had such a notion, is that this is a big-budget, studio summer pic. So no one is willing to defy all such genre conventions as a filmmaker might in a much lower-budget indie.
Even so, there is something bracing in seeing the alphabet soup of U.S. agencies — CIA, FBI, DEA and naval intelligence — portrayed as being every bit as corrupt, criminal and homicidal as a Mexican drug cartel and its venomous drug lord.
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg have played in their share of buddy movies so when you see the pair posing as raffish criminal partners casing a bank to rob it the following day, you take them at face value. They certainly have the swagger and put-down patter going, mocking each other and teasing the waitress at a greasy-spoon diner across from the Texas bank.
A little back story bolsters those credentials: Bobby Trench (Washington) and Michael “Stig” Stigman (Wahlberg) are middle-level drug smugglers acting as conduits between Mexican drug lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) and north-of-the-border customers.
But there’s a kicker. Actually there are two. The first is that each of them, unbeknownst to the other, is actually an undercover agent, Bobby for DEA and Stig for naval intelligence. (What the navy has got to do with any of this is beyond me since the only water in the movie is the kind you splash on your face.)
The second is that when they take down the bank, in a very methodical and professional manner, there is far too much loot. What was meant to be a $3 million haul turns out to be more like $43 million. Who’s money is this?
Well, Earl (Bill Paxton) of the CIA says it belongs to that agency and is more than willing to shoot anyone he even thinks may have a hand in its theft.
Meanwhile their respective agencies for political and even more nefarious reasons disavow their agents, despite a romantic liaison between Bobby and his DEA handler, Deb (Paula Patton).
So the undercover cops are on the run not only from drug dealers but their own agencies with this third kicker — neither one trusts the other at all. They spend as much time shooting at each other — kinda missing at times to be sure — as they do at bad guys and even badder guys.
Icelandic-born director Baltasar Kormákur (“Jar City,” “Inhale”) keeps the pace frantic and clearly takes little of this seriously so “2 Guns” is a fairly amiable actioner.
Screenwriter Blake Masters, in adapting five graphic novels by Steven Grant, may well have stuck to the letter of these stories but a more subversive film was possible. Something along the line of “Fair Game” only as an action movie where the U.S. government has no qualms about abandoning its own men — or even targeting them for elimination.
The plotting is dense and not always convincing as the movie leaves plot holes everywhere including a body that mysterious turns up on the other side of the border in order to leave an all-important clue.
Washington and Wahlberg keep things light in their supposed animosity without delving into the trickier issues of real distrust between allies that a more serious film would certainly have explored.
The other actors mostly play one-note roles such as Olmos’ drug-lord barbarian, James Marsden’s snide double-crossing naval commander and Fred Ward’s self-serving naval bigwig.
Production values are consistent with this summer’s action movies with no opportunity for shootouts, explosions or implausible stunts overlooked. If you’re becoming numb to these sequences, you’re not alone.
Open: August 2, 2013 (Universal Pictures)
Production Companies: Universal Pictures and Emmet/Furla Films present a Marc Platt production in association with Oasis Ventures Entertainment Ltd/Envision Entertainment/Herrick Entertainment/Boom! Studios
Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, Fred Ward, Edward James Olmos
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Screenwriter: Blake Masters
Based on graphic novels by: Steven Grant
Producers: Marc Platt, Randall Emmett, Norton Herrick, Adam Siegel, George Furla, Ross Richie, Andrew Cosby
Executive producers: Brandt Andersen, Jeffrey Stott, Motaz M. Nabulsi, Joshua Skurla, Mark Damon
Director of photography: Oliver Wood
Production designer: Beth Mickle
Music: Clinton Shorter
Costume designer: Laura Jean Shannon
Editor: Michael Tronick
R rating, 109 minutes