Review of 2 Guns, Directed by Baltasar Kormakur
By ANDREW COLLINS
Between Man on Fire, Shooter and your favorite buddy comedy, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen 2 Guns, the new summer action flick from director Baltasar Kormakur. Ecclesiastes’ ancient adage that there’s nothing new under the sun certainly applies to all films, but some—like this one—are more unoriginal than others.
The film opens with powerhouse stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg rolling into a small southwestern town in a vintage matte black Dodge charger. Washington sports a goatee, fedora, and khakis and Wahlberg a denim jacket and worn ball cap. They’re here to rob $3 million from a local bank, and they pull it off with gentle aplomb. Wahlberg flirts with the waitress of the diner across the street before casually tossing a lighter into the stove in the back to burn the place down and create a distraction. During the heist, while wearing a Frankenstein’s monster mask, Washington hushes a crying baby—all while holding the place at gunpoint. And as they make off with the cash, Washington returns the keys to the hapless security guard so he can unlock the police officers trapped in their own jail.
Having made their getaway into the desert on the U.S.-Mexico border, they quickly encounter two problems that lead to an inescapable conclusion: First, they stole $43 million, not the $3 million they expected. Second, they realize they’re both undercover government agents who had been working to bust a drug ring unbeknownst to each other. As they search for answers, they soon find that their agencies (the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Navy respectively) played and framed them, leaving them on the hook for $43 million with a Mexican drug lord to answer to and a nasty CIA agent in hot pursuit.
Navy, DEA, CIA, and drug cartel versus Denzel and Mark Wahlberg: let the fun begin.
Void of almost any redemptive qualities, 2 Guns floats on nothing but the swag of two action legends who shine in the “impossibly-awesome-hero-versus-the-world” role and make us laugh in the process. None of the film’s characters win our respect, because from the higher-ups in the U.S. government all the way down to thugs on the border, all have turned aside and become corrupt. Yet rather than descend into the tragic darkness of a film in which everyone is evil and ends up dying in the end, 2 Guns skates over the deeper issues with a lightheartedness and bravado like only a shoot-em-up American action flick could. No justice is done—ever—but the film tricks the audience into a shallow satisfaction because two likeable scoundrels make off with a good chunk of change in the end.
Granted, 2 Guns takes a number of shots at potential wells of emotion. At one point Washington’s character hears a captive woman get shot and die over the phone after he failed to come through on a deal with a Mexican drug lord. While interrogating one of Washington’s accomplices, the CIA agent charged with tracking him down (played by a steely Bill Paxton) briefly waxes eloquent on the nature of America: “it’s a free market, not a free world.” And at the end of the film, Walberg’s character comes to embrace Washington as “family” a la The Godfather – the only virtue the film takes even half-seriously – as together, with no small bit of unwillingness on both sides, they work through the lies of their past and come to find that the only thing they can bank on is their own friendship and trust in each other.
Yet none of these moments continued to haunt me after the film ended. If 2 Guns makes a deeper statement at all about what it means to be human, it serves only as an example of how pop cinema today wields the power to desensitize an audience to the things that really matter even as it includes the strong characters and drama that any functional movie requires. Indeed, 2 Guns has all the ingredients a good action flick needs both to satisfy audiences visually—cars, guns, women etc.—and to challenge the viewer to think. With a premise like two agents getting framed after a stint of undercover work in the drug wars, one could easily imagine scenarios that would prompt us to stew on some sort of moral question or tap into our sense of righteous justice, compassion, or some other virtue. Yet when I bit in, I found no meat to chew on, just a comedic seasoning that dissolves in seconds.
And frankly, that’s about all the reflection this film deserves.