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2 Guns

(2013) ** 1/2 R
109 min. Universal Pictures. Director: Baltasar Kormákur. Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Edward James Olmos, Bill Paxton, James Marsden.

/content/films/4544/1.jpgBy not being instantly dismissible with a comparison to some other movie, 2 Guns wins some audience goodwill right out of the gate. Yes, it's based on a graphic-novel series, but not a famous one, and while we've seen plenty of R-rated action buddy comedies before, the stream of amusing banter here comes with plotting that has a few good tricks in reserve.

Don't get me wrong. 2 Guns is as glib as all get out, and once the characters' hidden agenda are all out in the open, it begins to feel pretty long-winded in taking care of its business of Mexican standoffs, explosions, and demolition derbies. But the compensation of Denzel Washington, joined with surprising effectiveness to Mark Wahlberg, is not to be underestimated, and the release feeds into the zeitgeist of intense disillusionment with corrupt government institutions.

Washington and Wahlberg play wheeler-dealer Bobby "I Know a Guy" Beans and "junkyard dog" Michael "Stig" Stigman, a pair of dealers who--when stiffed by Mexican drug-cartel head Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos)--mutually agree to a compensatory savings-and-loan robbery. That scene partly plays out in the film's engagingly schtick-y opening sequence, which establishes a cool rapport between the stars and their characters before screenwriter Blake Masters (working from Steven Grant's comics) and director Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband) roll back the clock for some context.

How the plot unfolds, and what the characters are really after, is best left unexplained here, but it does come to involve $43.125 million, and the sticky fingers of U.S. Naval Intelligence (in the person of James Marsden) and the CIA (repped by a drawling, creepy-comic Bill Paxton). The rot of corruption has disillusioned Bobby to the point where he continually insists to Stig, "There is no code," explaining why he has no "people" or "family." Of course, Stig just as insistently gravitates toward being both to Bobby, in true buddy-comedy tradition.

Bobby's cynicism extends to withholding commitment from co-worker-with-benefits Deb (Paula Patton), who may or may not be worthy of trust. Once it expends its big twists in the early going, 2 Guns begins a decline into the familiar toward an ending that could be described, in style and substance, as predictable. But there's fun to be had getting there, mostly in the game playfulness of the leads and the pleasingly tart dialogue (Olmos, underplaying winningly, gets the zinger "It's a free market...Not a free world"). With its truth-in-advertising title and movie-star charm, 2 Guns will probably connect with audiences; if so, it's certainly sequel-ripe.

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