Denzel Washington, left, and Mark Wahlberg make a winning team in '2 Guns.' (Universal Pictures)
Rated R for violence, language, sexual situations.
We’ve barely entered the dog days, but the summer octoplex season, which creeps earlier in the calendar every year, already feels like it’s starting to go flat.
But the gripping pulp thriller “2 Guns” shows there still may be some juice left in the tank.
Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, guns, molls, dirty money, bank robberies, cartel bosses, crooked lawmen, craven military commanders, cross-border mayhem … yeah, that sounds like a tasty summer action movie.
Really, you can’t go wrong with leads like Denzel and Wahlberg, who play off each other like they have been doing it all their lives.
Denzel is Bobby Trench, a DEA agent who has spent three years undercover trying to get close to Mexican drug kingpin Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos).
To bolster his bonafides with Greco and his gang, Bobby has picked up a partner along the way in fast-talking Mike “Stig” Stigman (Wahlberg), whom Bobby believes is just a low-rent dirtbag good for little more than providing him with backup.
Bobby thinks he’s about to lower the boom on Greco, setting up a huge cocaine buy. But Greco pulls a switcheroo at the last minute, putting off the deal.
So at the behest of his DEA handlers (Robert John Burke and Paula Patton), Bobby hatches a plan to force the issue by robbing the small-town bank where he believes Greco is stashing about $3 million of his dirty cash.
But when Bobby and Stig hit the bank, they find not $3 million, but a whopping $43 million — and suddenly, the stakes shoot through the roof.
Oh, and it’s right about this time that we learn Stig isn’t quite what he seems to be; he’s also an undercover agent — specifically Navy intelligence, which is working its own angle on Greco.
It takes about half the movie for the boys to realize that they’re both on the same side. Sort of.
By that time, they’re in a deep, three-sided hole, surrounded by Greco and his narco army on one side; Stig’s shady Navy boss (James Marsden), who has his own bent aims, on another; and Earl (Bill Paxton), a mysterious, vicious, two-legged rattlesnake in a bolo tie, on the third.
The story, adapted by Steven Grant from his graphic novels with help from Blake Masters, is raw meat. And once it starts cooking, director Baltasar Kormakur, who worked with Wahlberg on last year’s “Contraband,” keeps the heat high as alliances shift this way and that.
But what truly makes it work is the chemistry between Denzel as nominal straight man and Wahlberg as excitable live wire.
Part of Stig’s undercover act is to act as if he lacks a filter between mouth and brain, and his quips provide fine comic relief, such as this pithy observation about how to effectively deal with dicey situations: “Walk softly and carry an M4 grenade launcher.”
The film gets loopy in its final act, such as when the boys storm a naval base with ridiculous ease, but the big finale is an awesome heavy-ordnance nutfest.
And it all gets done in a taut, tidy, fully satiating 109 minutes. (See, Hollywood? Good flicks can be brought in under two hours.)
“2 Guns” is a cool blast of dirty, lowdown double-dealing laced with a shot of noir, a bucket of macho and a 55-gallon drum of bad attitude. Load up and pull the trigger.
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