Misfiring: Washington and Wahlberg are 2 Guns-Ho

Cool guys Washington and Wahlberg, walking away. Not pictured:  explosion.

Cool guys Washington and Wahlberg, walking away. Not pictured: explosion.

The opening scene of Baltasar Kormákur’s 2 Guns is a rehashing of the “tip or don’t tip” argument from Reservoir Dogs. Undercover DEA officer Trench (Denzel Washington)—close to his big score, the flipping of a major Mexican crime lord—is persuaded by his patsy accomplice, undercover Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Marcus “Stig” Stigman (a positively gleeful Mark Wahlberg) to stop being a Scrooge and leave an extra $20 at the table for the waitress at a local diner.

Which would be fine, if Messrs. Wahlberg and Washington didn’t then gleefully burn the entire establishment to the ground, mayhem that culminates in a giant fireball explosion that the two men walk away from with the calm swagger of guys starring in a fictional universe where tinnitus doesn’t exist.
Why spend 10 minutes on opening dialogue about a tip that will be burned into ash moments later? It may seem like a quibble, but it illustrates the kind of nagging senselessness that will keep any viewer with half a brain from enjoying this otherwise affable-enough summer popcorn flick.

Even the premise is head-scratching: the duo, the latest incarnation of the buddy-cop archetype, decide to rob a bank, believing the cash inside belongs to the crime lord, whom the DEA plans on busting in a tax-evasion plot. (Sure.) Since neither man knows that the other one is undercover, each plans on implicating his partner in the robbery, because “it’s not entrapment if it was his idea,” as Trench tells his boss. (Nope.)

How these two members of elite government agencies managed to bumble into working together in the first place is never explained, nor is the fact that each man somehow misses that his BFF carries a badge in his back pocket, even though both are extremely paranoid and suspicious even of their own shadows. (For the record, I still have no idea why the Navy is involved in this Mexican drug bust.)

And this is all in just the first hour: in a first in cinematic history, the real conflict begins when the crime goes too smoothly and the robbers end up with too much money. Despite Trench’s plan for the DEA to arrive and bust the heist in progress, the men make off with the money without a hitch and find far more of it than could have belonged to the dealer they were investigating.

When Trench reveals his true identity as DEA, you’d think that would be the end of it: the men will confiscate the money, pull themselves out of the operation and have a good laugh over the months of mistaken identity.

But nothing is simple in 2 Guns, to the point where characters work directly against their own best interests just to keep the movie going. After finding out that his supposedly crooked partner is DEA, Stig, hurt by the betrayal, shoots Trench and leaves him for dead in the desert. Instead of you know, revealing that he’s a member of the U.S. Navy, and saving himself a possible murder rap of a federal agent.

What follows is 90 minutes of what might be some of the most brilliant—if inadvertent—political satire in modern history, a commentary of sorts on America’s national security missteps and rogue intelligence leaks. As the man whose money was actually stolen in the holdup (spoiler alert: he’s the head of another American intelligence agency), Bill Paxton chews scenery with relish, even when doing something as insane as, say, killing the head of the DEA because the man’s employee might know where his cash is. Later in the film, the Mexican crime lord, looking for the money himself, shoots the only character who knew where the money was in the head, to prove to Trench that he means business. Monkey business, maybe. And in a final WTF moment, Trench puts a bullet in his partner’s leg in retaliation for Stig’s earlier flesh wound, both of them laughing it off as they link arms and limp off into the sunset. Because, obviously, if you’re going to cripple someone, there’s no better time than right before the two of you begin your long walk home across the Mexican desert.

If you can get over these gigantic lapses in logic, on which the entire plot is predicated (good luck), you’ll find Messrs. Washington and Wahlberg perfectly enjoyable, and obviously enjoying themselves. Though they don’t share the chemistry that Mr. Wahlberg and Will Ferrell had in The Other Guys or that Mr. Washington and Ethan Hawke had in Training Day, their Oscar-and-Felix routine makes for a couple of laugh-out-loud moments. Mr. Wahlberg in particular can’t seem to stop giggling and winking throughout the film, even when it seems inappropriate: during a four-way Mexican standoff, while being beaten with a metal bat and gored by bulls, while preparing a victim for waterboarding. (The violence ratchets up from cartoonish to gruesome in inverse proportion to the importance of the character being made to suffer.)

We now live in an age when the distinction between action comedies (Rush Hour, Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon) and comedy films sending up action movies (The Other Guys, Hot Fuzz, Kung Fu Hustle) has all but disappeared, and you’d almost be tempted to forgive 2 Guns’s baffling plot holes if the film provided more real laughs. But this low-stakes movie wants to blur the lines even further, being both serious and silly. It fails at both. Audiences will find that the hard-to-follow plot is hardly worth their time, and that Mr. Wahlberg’s winking charm only goes so far.