Can Denzel Washington play a chill brother with a hot gun? You know it.
Can Mark Wahlberg fill the shoes of a loose-cannon sidekick spouting sass? In his sleep.
But as mismatched partners in “2 Guns,” neither is sleepwalking, which is what keeps this drug-traffic thriller based on Steven Grant's graphic novels afloat.
The plot is contrived, the details lack credibility, and the characters are stock. But Washington and Wahlberg get some comedic chemistry going, the one-line zingers work fairly regularly, and Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur keeps the action rolling so you either don't notice the gaping holes too much or don't totally disengage.
On the slowest weekend for new cinema releases since April, “2 Guns” gets a pass, if not quite an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
From the get-go, “2 Guns” skips back and forth in time, a bit too clever for its own good. Washington, as Bobby, and Wahlberg, as Stig, are playing games of deception on both sides of the border, casing a savings and loan in Texas from the diner across the street and selling valid U.S. passports to Papi Greco, a drug kingpin in Sonora, Mexico, in exchange for cocaine.
Or at least that's what it looks like at the movie's start. This is a movie full of double agents and divided loyalties, so the list of good guys and bad guys is like shifting sand.
It's not a good idea to reveal too much, except to say that eventually the CIA, the U.S. Navy, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Papi's drug cartel are pretty much all gunning for Bobby and Stig after $43 million is stolen from that savings and loan and then goes missing.
They don't have it. But they'll need each other to climb their way out of the deep hole they find themselves in.
So you get, you know, the usual car smashups, semiautomatic gunfights, helicopters buzzing, fists flying, big piles of cash moving around.
And sass. Lots of sass. Wahlberg and Washington are pretty good at force-feeding it to each other.
Just as good at it: Bill Paxton as a mean-streets federal agent with a thick Texas drawl, and Edward James Olmos as the soft-spoken drug kingpin. Both get to talk trash and swagger with impunity. Fun stuff.
The cast also includes James Marsden as a Navy officer and Fred Ward as an admiral. They don't get as much screen time, but they're fine when they're on. Less impressive: Paula Patton as Bobby's sometime girlfriend.
The final big shootout is confusing, with so many interests all attacking one another at once, and a stampede of horned cattle heaped on top of an already overloaded sequence. But even that has its moments of fun. The whole thing's pretty preposterous to begin with, starting with the idea that undercover agents would team without both knowing who the other is.
At its heart, this is just another buddy-cop movie with a twist or two. Washington and Wahlberg, Paxton and Olmos play off each other to make it fly. It's not as funny or clever as “Red 2,” but it will do on a slow weekend.