Films like 2 Guns used to dominate the summer season. Stick a couple of high-caliber stars on the screen, give them some bad guys to shoot and cars to blow up, and you had a guaranteed $200 million in grosses. Of course that was before CGI dominance and media franchises, when names like Cruise and Schwarzenegger seemed to be the only thing that guaranteed reliable box office returns. Those days are long gone, and so 2 Guns is relegated to the ash-heap of August – a month increasingly full of quirky and interesting films that couldn’t find traction among the resident summer monsters.
This one thrives on a certain amount of nostalgia, borrowing a big page from Lethal Weapon and similar buddy comedies to see it through. Let it not be said that the gambit fails. Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg hit nuclear levels of chemistry, playing undercover agents for rival government organizations both on the trail of notorious Mexican drug lord (Edward James Olmos). Neither knows the other’s true allegiances; they each assume their partner is one of the bad guys. Soon enough, it all goes to pot and a series of betrayals on all sides forces them to work together despite themselves.
The specifics, I confess, are a bit of a mess, as 2 Guns struggles to make us care about the various factions and their sordid dirty deals. It’s all empty posturing designed to move the boys from Point A to Point Stuff Explodes, and whenever it takes center stage, the movie stalls. Some respite arrives with a brutal stranger hunting the heroes down (JESUS WE MISSED YOU BILL PAXTON!!!), but the remainder is contrived, boring and even a little ridiculous sometimes.
Thankfully, that’s not the film’s big selling point. Its two leads possess more than enough charisma to hold our attention, and 2 Guns soars in those points where it gives itself over to them. The dialogue is hard-boiled, yet playful, taking copious inspiration from Elmore Leonard though never able to match his elegance. Washington and Wahlberg don’t care. When their Mutt-and-Jeff routine gets going, the rest of the movie fades to nothing and we’re left enraptured by their banter.
To that, director Baltasar Kormákur adds an enticing cocktail of shootouts and explosions, agreeably mindless and expertly filmed. They never quite make sense the way they should, but they’re pretty to look at and help boost 2 Guns out of its periodic doldrums. The film doesn’t get overly cute, and it has the good sense to wrap things up before they completely fall apart.
It’s also quite proud of its R rating, flashing gratuitous violence and nudity at us with no thought other than flaunting Hollywood’s prevailing wisdom. That’s a blessed relief in a year as homogenized as this one. 2 Guns finds purpose in its low-down nature: not strictly sleazy, just understanding the B-movie appeal of this season and reveling in it rather than trying to water it down. Like a lot of August movies, you won’t remember it long after you see it. And it’s okay with that. It breezes through its appointed task, shooting us a wink every now and then cutting loose with the fireworks. Everyone seems to be having a grand time, and yet it doesn’t feel unduly indulgent: a party for grown-ups to be sure, but one where everyone feels welcome. 2 Guns won’t win any awards, but its arrival here is just what the doctor ordered: a modestly cool follow-up to the pleasant surprise of The Wolverine. Here’s hoping the next few weeks can take advantage of its unpretentious example. God knows we could use it.