’2 Guns’ is a comic throwback to sleazier times

Bill Paxton (opposite Denzel Washington) is memorably terrifying in "2 Guns." Credit: Patti Perret
Bill Paxton (opposite Denzel Washington) is memorably terrifying in “2 Guns.”
Credit: Patti Perret

‘2 Guns’
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Stars: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

Like nearly everything that gets cranked out as summer movie entertainment these days, “2 Guns” is based on a comic book. But it’s not that kind of comic. Steven Grant’s source is a grounded, albeit still ridiculous, look at two undercover agents. It’s not a stylish “Sin City” noir clone; Grant also writes comics spun from “CSI.” The splashy, $90 million film version has less in common with anything currently in multiplexes, but plenty to do with the grim, sleazy, cheerfully pessimistic films Hollywood regularly and improbably cranked out during the 1970s. It’s not one of those films itself, but it’s closer than we deserve.

Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg play members of different agencies involved in taking down a Mexican drug cartel. Neither initially knows the other is undercover. One of the first acts in the film is for Wahlberg to shoot off the heads of various chickens buried up to their necks in dirt — which is how Sam Peckinpah’s great “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” opens. Other gratuitous nods to the whiskey-soaked director abound, as do ones to “Charley Varrick,” a crime saga led by a taciturn, cold-blooded Walter Matthau.

If the script, by “Brotherhood” creator Blake Masters, intimately understands these films and their worldweary vision, it doesn’t feel compelled to recreate them completely. Our leads get embroiled in the convoluted pursuit of stolen bank money, which is desired by the Navy (led by James Marsden), the CIA (led by Bill Paxton) and the south-of-the-border cartel (led by Edward James Olmos). Olmos’ character is the most exhausted, tired of being jerked around by his smug connections up north. But Paxton is the scariest. Never speaking above a whisper, and allowing his Louisiana-bred words to flow like molasses, he’s not above murder, often by way of Russian Roulette focused on one’s crotch.

But the tone, while weathered, is goofy. This is a comedy with no straight man. Washington and Wahlberg prove an oddly compelling duo, swapping quips and engaging in macho one-upmanship. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (“Contraband”) adopts a style that’s part Walter Hill — all grizzled behavior and Ry Cooder-esque slide guitar scoring — and part Richard Lester. One grisly interrogation is amusingly set in a garage, where the sensor keeps turning off the light, forcing our leads to awkwardly swat around their arms to get it back on. The treatment of government agencies is incredibly cynical, even for a ‘70s throwback film. But the sense of humor tempers that. And though it falls apart during the climax, one has to love where the gobs of money — half the film’s budget, mind you — ultimately wind up.


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