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"2 GUNS"
(2013) (Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg) (R)

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Action/Dramedy: Two undercover agents must not only deal with discovering the true identities of each other, but also the fact that they've now been set up for a bank robbery they pulled off in hopes of bringing down a Mexican drug lord.
Robert 'Bobby" Trench (DENZEL WASHINGTON) and Marcus 'Stig' Stigman (MARK WAHLBERG) would appear to be two unlikely criminal partners who are dealing with the very dangerous Mexican drug lord, Papi Greco (EDWARD JAMES OLMOS). Unbeknownst to Bobby, Stig is actually an undercover Navy intelligence officer trying to bring down Greco. And much to Stig's surprise, Bobby is an undercover DEA agent who's also been after for the drug lord for several years.

They learn this after they decide to rob a Texas bank in hopes of gathering enough evidence to bring Greco down, only to discover it's not there but more than $43 million in cash is. It's then that they learn that they've been set up, Bobby by his boss, Jessup (ROBERT JOHN BURKE), and possibly his former girlfriend and fellow DEA agent, Deb (PAULA PATTON). For Stig, it's his Navy superior, Quince (JAMES MARSDEN). To make matters worse, a sadistic CIA official, Earl (BILL PAXTON), wants the money back and doesn't care about any collateral damage he might create in doing so.

Realizing they can only trust each other, Bobby and Stig team up in a new way to figure out what's going on, bring down the various "bad guys" and keep themselves from getting killed.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
I'm not sure when U.S. government conspiracy theories first reared their paranoid heads. Was it related to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? Or perhaps that FDR's administration knew of the pending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and let it occur so that we were justified in entering WWII. Then again, there's always Roswell, Area 13 and its alleged preponderance of spaceships and even aliens.

Whatever the case, the Feds always end up doing just enough to fuel conspiracy theorists, be that Nixon's domestic wiretapping, the Iran-Contra mess back in the '80s or the more recent revelation that the U.S. government has been going all Big Brother on us. To make matters worse, there have been plenty of related movies to fuel that fire, with the latest being "2 Guns."

In it, undercover government agents (Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg) not only discover that they've been set up by their superiors, but also that another federal branch has been financially vested in the workings of a Mexican drug lord (Edward James Olmos). And that agency's twisted and sadistic representative (Bill Paxton) isn't pleased that the agents have stolen the $43 million he had stashed in a local bank and will do most anything -- although his favorite bit is a variation on Russian Roulette -- to get it back.

Holy conspiracy theory Batman! While the Caped Crusader doesn't show up to save the day, this film is based on the comic book/graphic novel series of the same name created by Steven Grant. But before you think Washington and/or Wahlberg end up playing some sort of relatively unknown superhero characters or that their film is attempting to be some sort of hard-hitting exposé of government corruption, you should know that at its heart it's just another buddy movie.

You know, the kind where mismatched guys end up teamed together to solve or accomplish some goal, all while comical bickering stems from their varying personalities and traits. In that particular regard -- and despite seeing that same sort of cinematic pairing too many times to remember -- the film works well.

The leads have a great chemistry together, their timing is near impeccable, and screenwriter Blake Masters gives them plenty of fun and funny dialogue with which to work. And Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur (who previously worked with Wahlberg on "Contraband") stages some decent (but never spectacular) action sequences, one of which segues into humor as the two characters briefly battle it out among themselves.

Unfortunately, and despite that and the decent cast, the rest of the script is simply a mediocre rehash of storyline, plot elements and character types we've seen just as often as the aforementioned buddy movies. It occasionally feels like it wants to play like a Tarantino film but is missing that auteur's masterful touches. At others, it seems like it wants to go the black comedy route, but only tiptoes in that direction. And for some, it could feel like a parody of the buddy movie genre, what with its mix of comedy and R-rated action and the leads occasionally pushing the limit of keeping their characters grounded in reality.

Even so, I enjoyed the interplay between Washington and Wahlberg and they alone keep this film afloat. Alas, the same can't be said for the supporting performers. Olmos isn't allowed the opportunity to bring anything fresh or interesting to the drug lord character; Paxton believably plays mean but his character never escapes two dimensions; and James Marsden (as Wahlberg's superior officer) and Paul Patton (as Washington's former lover and fellow DEA agent) similarly can't do much with their underdeveloped onscreen personas.

While there's plenty of ammo fired from weapons that far exceed the titular count of the film, the story is all about the "hired guns" ordered to do the dirty work of others. Just as their characters are proficient at that, Washington and Wahlberg excel at doing the buddy movie bit. If only they were doing so in a better film. "2 Guns" isn't bad, it's just reheated cinematic leftovers that aren't anywhere as tasty as the first time around. And there's no conspiracy regarding that. The film rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 30, 2013 / Posted August 2, 2013

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