Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg’s billion-dollar chemistry can’t quite overcome a script with near-schizophrenic shifts in tone
“If it bends, it’s funny,” Alan Alda’s unctuous TV producer character in “Crimes and Misdemeanors” likes to observe. “If it breaks, it isn’t.” There’s a whole lot of breaking going on in “2 Guns,” a movie that uneasily mixes typical mismatched-buddy-cop jokiness with excessive violence that derails the enterprise.
Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Shane Black, more often than not, know how to show just enough mayhem in just the right increments so that the laughs keep coming.
Director Baltasar Kormákur (“Contraband”), working from Blake Masters’ adaptation of Steven Grant’s graphic novel, lacks that precise touch. One minute we’re chuckling over the banter between the leads, and then someone gets tortured or shot in the kneecap and the comic tone evaporates.
That banter mostly works, however, since most of it goes back and forth between Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.
As the film begins, we see Bobby (Washington) and Stig (Wahlberg) plotting to rob a small-town bank where drug kingpin Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) makes a sizable weekly cash deposit.
Not to get too deeply into spoiler territory, neither Bobby’s nor Stig’s intentions wind up being what we originally thought. But while the two of them are scamming each other, they are in turn each betrayed by the people they thought they could trust, forcing them to band together as they become the target of the DEA, the CIA and the U.S. Navy, to say nothing of a very angry Papi.
Washington and Wahlberg make this fairly flimsy material far more fun than it should be. Among its many crimes, “2 Guns” is steeped in masculine panic, from the constant references to male genitalia and what characters plan to do with other people’s junk to Paula Patton getting saddled with perhaps the most gratuitous nude scene by a major actress since Halle Berry in “Swordfish.” (The camera actually starts on her breasts and moves its way up to her eyes, as though Kormákur was ordering a basket of wings from a Hooters waitress.)
The director does know his way around an elaborate set piece, whether it’s a car-chase-turned-fist-fight or the blowing up of a cafeteria kitchen, but it’s the more one-on-one moments of sadism that make the tone veer too sharply. He could have removed some wackiness and made a gritty action movie (although, granted, that strategy served him none too well in “Contraband”) or toned down the viciousness and played this off for comedy, but as it is, “2 Guns” is neither fish nor fowl.
Still, an eclectic mix of actors (the cast also includes Bill Paxton, James Marsden and Fred Ward) got a paycheck, and the whole thing will probably play like a charm trimmed for content on TNT one of these days.
It’s no fiasco, but it’s hardly worth 19 more guns saluting it, either.