The film 2 Guns (directed by Baltasar Kormakur) has one good thing going for it: thechemistry between the two leads. The formula is by now familiar. Two cops — one black, one white, one wise-cracking and rowdy, the other wise and not so rowdy — are forced to work together. Comedy, action, and violence ensue. But "2 Guns" is not an entirely descriptive title. It's more like dozens of guns… hundreds of guns… uh, there are a lot of guns in this movie.
We've seen this formula as far back as 48 Hrs., with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte; in the Lethal Weapon films, with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover; and in Die Hard with a Vengeance, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. But as far as the acting goes (not so much the script; see below), the chemistry has never worked better than it does here, with Mark Walberg and Denzel Washington, who — despite contrasts in physicality and acting style — seem made to play off each other.
The other day my mother commented that Denzel Washington paved the way for Barack Obama's presidency. That's quite a claim, but I don't think my mom was wrong. Denzel brought many things to movies that Obama eventually did to politics (and Sidney Poitier before either of them). He's a black man fully comfortable with who he is, who at the same time is smarter than all or most of the white people around him. He's older now, but his salt n' pepper hair color (like Obama's own) hasn't taken away one of whit of his cool or charisma; if anything, the look enhances him. Mark Walberg, who in this film is not smart so much as street smart, plays off him beautifully. This is the character he might have played in Pain and Gain if only that character hadn't been quite so stupid. As in Lethal Weapon, the black half of the duo is cooler and more experienced here; the white half is street smart but not entirely in control.
2 Guns has a good premise for a film of this kind: Have two undercover agents, each from different agencies, not recognize each other as law enforcement until — while trying to set up a drug lord by robbing him and turning over his cash — they pull off a heist. The two undercover agents are then betrayed by their respective people so that their only salvation is for them to work together… this time, knowing that they are both working for the good guys. Their problem is, how can they know who are really the good guys anymore and who are the betrayers? In the end, we can only be sure of the two leads — who have to learn to trust each other, because almost everyone else turns out to be crooked.
In supporting roles are some other good actors, including Edward James Olmos (of Miami Vice fame) as the drug kingpin, and Bill Paxton, who is sent by a mysterious organization (I won't say which) that lost over 40 million dollars in the aforementioned heist and will go to any length — and I do mean any — to get the money back.
Alas, the film fails in at least two major ways. First, this is the most illogical script in many a season. The assumption of Blake Master's screenplay (based on a graphic novel by Steven Grant) is that we'll pay attention to the guns and not to story logic. Nonetheless, the mind reels. Mark Walberg's organization is (surprise) the U.S. Navy. If a reason is given why the Navy would ever, ever get involved in a drug bust, I quite missed it. Worse, he's directed by his superiors, after he learns Denzel's true identity, to leave a bona fide DEA agent to die in the desert after deliberately shooting him. If standard operating procedure in the U.S. military is to shoot the good guys, our government is in much worse trouble than I thought. And that's just the beginning of the wormholes in this script, which proliferate worse than those in the Big Bang.
Speaking of bangs, there's no end to the violence in this film either, and — although it doesn't dwell on blood-and-guts-style gore as much as some R-rated films do — the violence has a cruel edge to it. I never felt much empathy for chickens before, but shooting their heads for target practice while the chickens are stuck in the ground is just going too far. The violence here, as in the more extreme Miami Vice episodes, gets so completely out of hand that plausibility is left behind after the first reel. The filmmakers have given up all pretense of trying to represent weapon handling in a realistic or responsible way. It's just everybody grab a gun and start shooting. Sigh. That's Hollywood for you.