2 Guns is a movie where no one is ever exactly telling the truth. It begins by introducing us to Bobby Beans (Denzel Washington) and his partner-in-crime Stig (Mark Wahlberg). The two are working odd jobs for Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), the head of a powerful Mexican drug cartel. The wrinkle: Bobby Beans is actually an undercover DEA agent, and Stig is actually undercover Navy Intelligence. Neither one knows about the other, however, until the pair robs a bank and come out with more money than they expected. The two soon discover that they were both set up, and they end up working together to figure out what exactly happened.
What exactly happened is pretty complicated. It’s a plot that involves members of various government agencies trying to steal from each other, and corruption that allows drugs to enter the United States. It’s a twisty plot that has hidden agendas for pretty much all of its characters, the film fueled almost entirely by double-crosses. It doesn’t always make sense, but the movie does a fine enough job of laying out this grand web of deceit. The film largely keeps up its forward momentum as it tangles with the shifting loyalties and dramatic revelations.
The film mostly relies on the buddy chemistry between its two leads to keep things compelling. The film is probably at its most entertaining when Walhberg and Washington are just talking to each other. Neither one strays very far from their established screen personae: Wahlberg delivers speedy yet earnest dialogue, while Washington exudes gruff coolness. It’s no stretch for either of them, but it really works. The two play off each other really well, giving the film a fairly solid core to build around.
But what it does end up building is kind of trifling. A lot of the motivations are vague at best, the relationships not really developed enough to really matter. And a couple of the twists are kind of telegraphed too early. The last twenty minutes are also kind of a mess, the film giving into the temptation of delivering those standard action movie beats. The film builds up such a huge conspiracy that it’s almost disappointing just to see it all lead up to a pretty standard gunfight.
But the film deserves credit for what it gets out of its few action scenes. It’s all shot very coherently, the film avoiding the shaky camera techniques that have been in vogue for the last decade or so of action filmmaking. The film could have used a little more style, given the broadness of the story it ends up telling. But it all works well enough. The film is even able to hit a couple of decent dramatic moments along the way.
2 Guns isn’t the kind of film that becomes a favorite, but it’s good enough for what it is. It doesn’t try to do a whole lot, but it accomplishes its meager goals. If nothing else, it’s got a great pair of leads in Wahlberg and Washington. Though it’s nothing we haven’t seen from the actors before, the two are still able to elevate the material. They make the jokes better, and lend some measure of gravity to the film’s generally undercooked dramatic elements. 2 Guns will probably be forgotten a month from now, but in the moment, it’s a pretty okay film.