2 Guns: Washington and Wahlberg are locked, loaded and lighthearted

by Mark Burger

Even when he’s coasting, as he is in 21 Guns (**½), Denzel Washington is such a formidable presence that he can make just about anything he’s in worth watching. Here he’s paired with Mark Wahlberg in a triedand-true example of the buddy/cop film, which for these two stars is something of a cakewalk.

As befits the genre, there’s plenty of bickering and bantering between the two, cast as undercover agents unaware of the other’s true identity. Washington’s Bobby Trench is deep-cover DEA, and Wahlberg’s “Stig” Stigman likewise for Naval Intelligence. They’re trying to bust a Mexican drug ring, but find themselves set up when a bank robbery supposed to yield $3 million instead yields a $43 million haul.

There’s a conspiracy at work here, obviously, and it’s bigger than either Bobby or Stig could have imagined. The solution, of course, is to shoot or blow up everything and everyone in sight. Sooner or later, they’re bound to eliminate the right people — be they DEA, Naval Intelligence or CIA. The film takes a dim view of such government agencies, which are portrayed as being just as corrupt and murderous as the Mexican drug ring that was the original intended target.

Under the direction of Baltasar Kormakur, who previously collaborated with Wahlberg on the enjoyable 2012 version of Contraband, 2 Guns breezes along thanks to the affable, agreeable teamwork of Washington and Wahlberg, whose comfortable chemistry is the film’s principal selling point.

The supporting cast includes Bill Paxton, Edward James Olmos, James Marsden, Fred Ward, Robert John Burke and luscious Paula Patton as a DEA agent who dallies with Bobby on their off-hours. Anyone billed below the title is expendable — as 2 Guns proves repeatedly — but Paxton and Olmos, respectively, provide especially fun turns as a wicked CIA hatchet man and an elegant drug baron not above getting his hands dirty.

Yet as the film approaches its inevitable shoot-’em-up finale (the Mexican standoff being de rigueur in a film like this), it’s plainly obvious that both of its leading men are bulletproof, literally as well as figuratively. Despite all the firepower leveled at them throughout the film, the only injuries they sustain are those that have been inflicted by the other.

In that sense, 21 Guns holds true to its comic-book origins (it’s based on a series of graphic novels publishes by the aptlynamed Boom! Studios) — yet there’s the nagging feeling that, with a little more care and a little less running time, it could have been something truly special.