4:28 PM EDT, July 31, 2013
Taken from a graphic novel, "2 Guns" has this much in common with Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine": They're both about characters hung out to dry. Also, the stars in both films lend panache and a sense of purpose to familiar-seeming material. Beyond that the differences are significant. "Blue Jasmine" is the movie with the old-time jazz on the soundtrack; "2 Guns" is the one with people getting shot in the leg, the arm, the head, the chest or somewhere else, and with Paula Patton in a nude scene that brings a hush of prayerlike gratitude from a mostly male audience.
Denzel Washington, above left, and Mark Wahlberg, above right, provide the stardom. They're two of the most reliable, relatable action heroes in American movies today. In "2 Guns" the company they keep on screen is solid, thanks to Bill Paxton as a vicious CIA operative after the millions stolen from a New Mexico bank; Edward James Olmos as a drug lord, after the same; James Marsden, as a U.S. Naval Intelligence officer, after the same. Paxton in particular registers strongly; with his twitty little mustache, tiny little hats and blood-curdling interrogation methods, he appears to be channeling a villainous passel of character actors (a little John Hillerman, a lotta Warren Oates) from films past.
The setup: Washington's character, who goes by Bobby Beans (what is this, "Rango"?) may look and act like a garden-variety bank robber, but he's really an undercover Drug Enforcement Agency op, trying to bring down the Mexican drug cartel ruled by Olmos' Papi Greco. He doesn't realize (and vice versa) that his partner, Stig Stigman (Wahlberg), is likewise no common thief. He's a U.S. Naval Intelligence officer undercover and gunning for Greco.
Already this is getting twisty. "2 Guns" comes from a BOOM! Studios series of comics written by Steven Grant and drawn by Mateus Santolouco. In its original form, the story is diverting, facile stuff. The same can be said of the film version, adapted freely by Blake Masters and directed by Baltasar Kormakur, whose career spans Icelandic-language dramas and English-language thrillers, among them "Contraband," starring Wahlberg.
He has talent, this director: "2 Guns" isn't necessarily my thing (the jokey sadism is a drag), but Kormakur lays out an action sequence with a swiftness and a coherence missing from many other pictures. The movie's a demonstration of two overlapping brands of narrative cynicism: Its depiction of a vast, CIA-fueled and drug-funded conspiracy is pure early 21st century, but in many of the particulars, "2 Guns" harks back to the smaller-scale amoral thrillers of the post-Watergate 1970s studio era. The 1973 Don Siegel film "Charley Varrick" is a major reference point, with the bank robberies in both films taking place in fictional Tres Cruces, N.M. Cinematographer Oliver Wood goes for brightly lit compositions, steering clear of faux-documentary realism in his lighting. The bantering stars remain front and center throughout. The psychology, if you can call it that, regarding the characters' motivations and entanglements is paper thin, the Achilles' heel of the typical graphic novel-derived action film. The actors — including Patton as Bobby's DEA colleague and sometime fling — cannot act what is not there. But with Washington, Wahlberg, Olmos and Paxton around jockeying for dominance, the standoffs have their moments.
'2 Guns' - 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for violence throughout, language and brief nudity)
Running time: 1:48
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