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08 Aug 2013

Laughs and Action: Denzel, Wahlberg Are a Fun Duo in '2 Guns'

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Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in 2 Guns. Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in 2 Guns.

2 Guns offers a couple of intriguing acting possibilities.

One: Denzel Washington, who has done well on the dramatic and action side, has always shown a flair for humor, yet he hasn’t made many comedies (Carbon Copy in 1981 and Much Ado About Nothing in 1993).

Two: Mark Wahlberg has made a lot of action films, but most of them stink (Contraband, The Big Hit). His comedies, on the other hand, feature some of his very best work, with The Other Guys being a shining example.

So, does 2 Guns provide a chance for Washington to be funnier, and Wahlberg to bring the laughs in an action movie that isn’t completely lame?

The answer: a mild “yes.” 2 Guns gets no accolades for originality, but Washington and Wahlberg are a winning combo—and a nasty turn by Bill Paxton as a satanic CIA man helps things along. This is not a straight-up comedy, but it has a good share of action-comedy laughs.

Washington plays Bobby Trench, an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent trying to take down a Mexican drug cartel led by the dude from Miami Vice and Battlestar Galactica (Edward James Olmos). Wahlberg is Stig, AWOL from the Navy and looking to clear his name, (There’s some other nonsense that I didn’t really follow, too.)

Through a bunch of “only in the movies” circumstances, they find themselves teamed up and robbing a bank—unaware that each of them are undercover, and lying about who they are. They rob the bank expecting to net a certain amount of money, but wind up with a lot more.

Enter Bill Paxton. He proves mightily adept at playing a man with compromised morals. He has a bit involving a Russian-roulette game that is actually quite chilling, and he chews on every line delivery as if it were a mouthful of awesome jerky. I haven’t enjoyed Paxton this much in a movie since he wielded an ax and spouted religious claptrap back in 2001 in the underrated gem Frailty.

The film kicks into a higher gear when the Washington and Wahlberg characters realize each other’s true identities, and they work together to overcome various betrayals and double-crosses inflicted upon them by the CIA, girlfriends, the Navy, the snot-nosed kid down the street, and Jesus. Everybody seems to be out to screw these guys.

I like Wahlberg most when he’s trying to be funny. I especially liked a sequence in which his character is berating a group of men for torturing chickens—while he is chewing on a barbecued chicken leg. His character has a strange sort of exuberance; he's a childlike wonder coupled with a shooter’s eye, and that all makes him a great action-comedy partner.

Washington is often called upon to be serious or bad-ass, plus he gets the occasional chance to cry after it looks like he’s not going to cry. (I will never forget that tear shooting out of his face in Glory.) Here, he’s allowed to cut loose in a way he never has before, and Wahlberg proves to be a great counterpart.

Of course, none of this would work if director Baltasar Kormákur had screwed things up—like he did with Wahlberg and the awful Contraband. 2 Guns is far more straightforward than that convoluted mess, and the chases and shootouts crackle with the kind of intensity that we action-movie fans crave this time of year.

This is a testosterone-heavy movie, with Paula Patton playing the only female character who really registers. As Deb, Bobby’s DEA partner, Patton does just fine. Her character, like every other in the film, is a bit of a stereotype, but she handles it with grace. She also gets partially naked, because this is an R-rated film; it’s targeted at men; and most men (and many women) want to see her naked.

The producers face a dilemma if they go for a sequel: What will they name the thing? 2 Guns 2? Or 2 Guns II? Or how about 2 Guns: Even Gunnier? Why not Mark Wahlberg Is Super Funny When He Acts Like a 10-Year-Old, and He Does It Again in This Poorly Named Sequel? Who knows?

2 Guns is playing at theaters across the valley.

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