Coasting on the charisma of its two leads -- Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, guys who, when they're not putting in a ton of acting effort, can each rely on a successfully honed set of movie star gestures -- 2 Guns is late-summer entertainment for half-watching and half-considering. To do more than that is to court brain freeze.
Bobby (Washington) and the '80s-monikered Stig (Wahlberg, whose character would, in a more perfect movie, sport Mel Gibson's Lethal Weapon mullet) are criminals who are secretly undercover cops -- Bobby for the DEA, Stig for the Navy -- both hiding their identities from the other. When plans to close in on a drug lord (Edward James Olmos) go askew after a bad cocaine deal and subsequent bank robbery, their secret identities become much less secret. But that's just the beginning.
What follows is a greatest-hits compilation of post-Shane Black/Quentin Tarantino moves, the kind that reach higher when they come directly from the source. The ensemble cast, including Paula Patton as a DEA agent with secrets, James Marsden as a brutal Navy higher-up and Bill Paxton as an even more brutal CIA guy, scatters itself in a zigzagging maze of hidden motives, alliances and agendas. Fans of this genre know in advance that nothing in the convoluted crisscross of crime dudeisms is really surprising. Instead, the surprises are found in the specific details, casually tossed off bits of weirdness and -- depending on individual viewers' sensitivity to senseless, sometimes sadistic violence couched in comedic quotes -- infuriating thorns in the side.
Everything else on display is content never to try too hard. It rips off what it wants from its predecessors and runs, confident that its stars will do the heavy lifting. The stars, meanwhile, know that this isn't heavy lifting at all. Liberated from the demands of serious film, they fall easily into buddy-cop/married-couple bitching and bantering, always well past the point of personal safety as exploding sets engulf them.
That's the privilege of crime comedy when it involves lone-wolf male leads, straight guys in a world of violence and minimal interaction with women (Patton's presence here almost doesn't count, since neither one of the men can truly have her). It's not about who the bad guys really are, who wins in the end or if justice is served. It's about pure alphas play-fighting and because of that they're allowed everything, tied to no one and harmed by nothing, not bullets, love, assault, fire or intimacy. Everything bounces off. It's as if the characters already know what the audience has set aside for the duration of the running time, that the guns aren't real and they can't be harmed, even as dozens and dozens of bodies fall around them like scorched insects. They're the guns, but you knew that already, too. Bummer that word didn't end with a "z." Kind of a missed opportunity.
STAR RATING: 3/5