‘2 Guns’: Bangin’

July 30, 2013

2guns

There’s been a lot of action at the movies this summer, very little of it memorable.

So Baltasar Kormakur’s “2 Guns” comes as a welcome surprise: a film with the wit, tension and sheer headlong pace to grab and hold your attention for a brisk 106 minutes.

Yes, that’s right – finally, there’s a summer movie with high-value stars that doesn’t drag on into the next day. After a season of two-hour-plus behemoths, Kormakur proves it’s possible to tell a tight, taut story without skimping on humor or action.

Kormakur had a leg up to start with, thanks to a smart, funny script by Blake Masters, who wrote the unfortunately short-lived Showtime series “Brotherhood.” (Find it and watch it if you want a primer on how to write a brainy, exciting show.) With “2 Guns,” he’s working from a series of graphic novels of the same name, and etches each character with enough tartness and heart to let you plug in to all of them immediately.

Of course, 90 percent of directing is casting. Kormakur scores big here as well, with a cast that starts with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington – the happiest pairing since Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in “48 HRS” – and goes deep into the lineup: Paula Patton, James Marsden, Edward James Olmos, Fred Ward and, last but definitely not least, Bill Paxton. Each of them creates a memorable moment – more than one – yet none of them shows off or otherwise draws attention away from the story itself and the characters in it.

At the center are Washington and Wahlberg as Bobby and Stig, an odd couple who seemingly are trying to rob a bank in a tiny Texas town. But as quickly becomes apparent (and this isn’t a spoiler because it’s in the commercials), each is a lawman working undercover – unaware that his partner is also upholding, rather than breaking, the law.

Their target – for a variety of reasons – is that tiny Texas bank, where they expect to snatch a safe deposit box full of cash belonging to a Mexican drug lord, Papi Greco (Olmos). Except two things happen: The bank contains about 10 times as much cash as they expected – and both of their agencies doublecross them. Suddenly they’re fugitives, forced to team up to save their own skins and figure out who’s behind the double-dealing.

The plotting keeps you hooked in, even as it all leads to the inevitable shoot-out at the end. Yet Kormakur overcomes the obstacle of an automatic-weapon-centric action movie, keeping his focus on the characters, rather than the firepower. These are people you invest in, because of the wonderfully prickly rapport between Wahlberg and Washington.

Denzel is still The Man – as cool and in charge as he’s been since the undeservedly overlooked “Devil in a Blue Dress.” He’s quick-witted, with great stutter-step timing, allowing him to both observe and engage (and keep up with) the motor-mouthed repartee that Wahlberg rattles off. But he can also be darkly silent, a man on a mission with his eye squarely on the ball, all appearances to the contrary.

Wahlberg is his opposite: He seems to never stop talking and much of what he says will make you laugh – either because the humor works or because Wahlberg sells it so well. He brings soul to the character – the upright earnestness of a Boy Scout blended with the self-assurance of a professional daredevil.

Paxton steals the show every time he’s on camera. As the mysterious and deadly guy who is tracking down that missing money, he’s got a controlled missionary fervor that you underestimate at your own peril.

Sure, it would be easy to quibble about the likelihood of all of this happening. But hey – it’s a movie, and a juicy one. “2 Guns” moves quickly and convincingly enough that, by the end, you’re exhausted from the tension it creates. It’s fast and funny and definitely the smartest action movie of the summer.

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