2 Guns” opens like a contemporary remake of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” only with a significantly harder edge. (The movie is rated “R” for profanity, brief nudity and sexuality, and graphic violence throughout, including more than a little sadistic torture. Decidedly not for kids.) Here, two robbers plot to knock over a small-town bank in Tres Cruces, New Mexico, bantering over breakfast in a “café that serves the best doughnuts in three counties.” Like the famous train robbery scene in “Butch Cassidy,” the heist succeeds beyond their expectations but sets off a chain of events — including a climactic shootout south of the border — that imperils our anti-heroes and the gorgeous female love interest.
Replacing Redford and Newman are Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as, respectively, Bobby (who has a number of last name aliases) and Michael “Stig” Stigman. The film’s best moments occur when these two trade insults, punches, even gunshots with each other or a variety of people that are looking to capture and/or kill them. The low points, by contrast, feature the usual shootouts with massive artillery overkill. There’s only one car chase, praise be, and director Baltasar Kormakur handles it with dispatch.
As it develops, Bobby and Stig are not your usual bank robbers. In fact, both are undercover agents, neither of whom knows that the other is what he claims to be. Stig eventually discovers that Bobby is DEA; Bobby learns his partner in crime works for naval intelligence. (No, don’t ask why the Navy is dealing with drug runners in the Sonoran desert: it’s one of the film’s numerous improbabilities.) They want to steal the estimated $3 million that drug lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) has stashed in the small town savings and loan, presumably so that their superior officers can break up the drug ring.
But nothing is what it seems to be in this convoluted plot, which I was still trying to decipher hours after I left the theater. Bobby’s ex-girlfriend and fellow DEA agent (Paula Patton) and Stig’s good buddy and immediate commanding officer (James Marsden) both have secret agendas which include the two men but do not exactly benefit them. Oh, and there’s Earl, a mysterious and sadistic agent played with hateful flair by Bill Paxton, sporting a Southern drawl. These folks double and triple cross each other from the get-go, leaving the audience perplexed and a bit vexed as the plot lines proliferate.
Still, “2 Guns” provides a bit of relief from the onslaught of CGI, 3-D, comic book hero flicks that have filled the screens this summer. Even if it is adapted from a graphic novel, the film includes a fair helping of cool dialogue by screenwriter Blake Masters, most of whose work has been in TV. Perhaps not surprisingly, his screenplay works pretty well for about an hour, after which the fun fades fast as the confusion mounts.
Fans of the buddy cop genre will probably enjoy this one, which recalls the “Lethal Weapon” series of the 1980s. Washington’s role here recalls that in “Training Day,” for which he won an Oscar, and Wahlberg enthusiasts will hear echoes of both “Ted” and “Shooter” in Stig’s character. These two are the best (or only?) reasons to come in from the gorgeous summer weather and see “2 Guns.”