'We're partners; we're ebony and ivory," Mark Wahlberg says in a giddy rush of man love - having survived shootouts, torture sessions, and the horns of an oncoming bull side by side with Denzel Washington in 2 Guns.
And it's true that, in this slam-bang adaptation of a graphic novel about dueling undercover agents, the two stars riff, wrestle, and crack wise as though they genuinely enjoy each other's company. They like each other, and we like 'em for it - Wahlberg shamelessly winking at waitresses and acting like a knucklehead (he mangles highfalutin words like "misan-thorp"), Washington oozing jazzbo cool with his goatee, gold-capped canines, dark shades, and Panama hat.
Too bad the vehicle they find themselves in - or vehicles (a Dodge muscle car, a vintage Mercedes wagon, various SUVs, and a fleet of other "borrowed" wheels) - is so pointlessly, nastily violent. Animals and people get their heads blown off for the sake of a bad joke, and Bill Paxton, as one of the movie's heavies, rolls his revolver in his hand, making ominous inquiries about Russian roulette and his captives' familiarity with same.
Sure, if the movie is called 2 Guns you should expect an army of stuntmen firing off rounds of ammo, squibs exploding. But Paxton's sociopathic G-man, and even more so Edward James Olmos' Mexican druglord, Papi Greco, belong in something darker, and creepier, than this. Director Baltasar Kormákur (he trotted Wahlberg through his paces in last year's Contraband, too) stages his chases and shoot-'em-ups with flair, but if he's trying to pull off a Tarantino-esque juggling act (hip irony one minute, ugly carnage the next), it doesn't work. Even the obliging Paula Patton's topless scene - she's Washington's character's kind-of girlfriend - has a voyeuristic, exploitive smarm about it.
Shot in New Orleans and New Mexico (looks like the same patch of desert the Breaking Bad gang wanders around), 2 Guns is a spinning wheel of double-crosses and triple-crosses in which Wahlberg's Michael Stigman and Washington's Bobby Trench, also known as Bobby Beans, suspect each other of being a crook, a drug runner, a bank heister, when in fact they are both undercover agents, working for separate outfits, Stigman with Navy Intel, Bobby with the DEA. Ultimately, they figure that out.
They also figure out that their respective bosses haven't been straight with them. There's a deep current of cynicism running through 2 Guns - if it has to do with the government, it can't be trusted.
There's also a running gag about cops and doughnuts, as the duo make plans to rob a small-town savings and loan where they think Greco has been stashing millions in a safe deposit box. With border crossings and familiar buddy-cop movie tropes (think Lethal Weapon, think 48 HRS, think The Heat), the Wahlberg-Washington express hits lots of comfortably familiar notes. And more than a few viciously uncomfortable ones, too.
2 Guns **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. With Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton, and Edward James Olmos. Distributed by Universal Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 49 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, sex, nudity, profanity, drugs, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters