“Clown or Frankie?” says Mark Wahlberg to Denzel Washington in 2 Guns as they get ready to rob a bank in Bozo the clown and Frankenstein’s Monster masks respectively. Iceland’s Baltasar Kormákur ( Contraband ) faces a parallel quandary in this action caper, which struggles to balance its jokey tone with industrial levels of violence.
It’s not only chickens that get their heads blown off as Washington’s undercover DEA agent and Wahlberg’s clandestine naval intelligence officer attempt to bring Edward James Olmos’ Mexican drug lord to book without disclosing their true identities, least of all to each other.
And the bloodshed only escalates after a raid on Olmos’ cash stash reaps an unexpected windfall, coveted not just by Wahlberg’s dodgy superior (James Marsden) but also by a governmental enforcer (Bill Paxton). With bullets flying in every direction it’s a challenge for the stars to maintain their Lethal Weapon -style banter and yin-yang thing.
The challenge for the audience, meanwhile, is to follow the plot. Kormákur nimbly stages the various shoot-outs, stand-offs and punch-ups and choreographs one enjoyably bold incursion at a Texas air base. But when the story takes a darker turn, it clashes with the earlier breeziness, a transition that feels more forced than honestly earned.
The movie’s aim is surer when focusing on its leads’ bromance. Wahlberg’s volatility clicks with Washington’s unflappable cool. Scenes in which they bicker over tactics, breakfast and chat-up lines have a zip and fizz that invites future collaborations.
Olmos, for his part, brings heft to what could easily have been a cardboard cut-out villain. Fred Ward, meanwhile, contributes a memorably gruff cameo as a navy bigwig.
Weakest link? That would be Paula Patton as a colleague of Washington’s who oscillates between femme fatale and damsel in distress. Then again, she’s hardly the only element on uncertain footing.
Washington and Wahlberg are an effective double act in an intermittently exciting thriller with more twists than it needs. We’d love to see them partnered again, though perhaps as characters.