If anyone needed proof of the continued viability of comic books and graphic novels as potential properties or licenses to be transformed into major motion pictures, then they should look no further than the action buddy-comedy '2 Guns' starring the unlikely duo of Denzel Washington and Mark Whalberg.
Based on the Boom! Studios graphic novel of the same name, from writer Steve Grant and artist Mat Santolouco, the film reunites Whalberg with his 'Contraband' director, Baltasar Kormákur, in a wildly convoluted plot involving Mexican drug cartels, crooked DEA agents and Naval Intelligence officers all looking for a piece of a $43.125 million payday that was amassed when two undercover agents, Bobby Trench and Michael 'Stig' Stigman (Washington and Whalberg, respectively) robbed a South Texas bank, looking to cripple the cartel, and inadvertently absconded with all the cash from a secret government slush fund. This first puts Stig and Trench on a collision course with one another, but soon everyone else is in on the chase, including the aforementioned cartel, various arms of law enforcement and the intelligence community, which, as it turns out may not be as interested in the pursuit of justice as they are in getting their hands on some of that money.
Whether or not the film is entirely successful (it's not), or packed with truly entertaining characters and action sequences (again, it's not), the one thing that '2 Guns' does have going for it is that it's the kind of mid-level, modestly budgeted (if you compare it to the budgets of summer blockbusters, $80 million seems like a steal), star-studded action movie that generally just isn't made much anymore. A good comparison to the style and feel of this kind of movie would be Walter Hill's terrific 1982 buddy-action flick '48 Hrs' – the formula of which even he tried emulate somewhat with the unfortunately titled Sylvester Stallone flick, 'Bullet to the Head.' But '2 Guns,' thankfully, has far more personality than that film, and, in that sense winds up feeling a little like a cinematic relic that's been dug up and given a serious spit-polish thanks to it having a two-time Academy Award-winner and an Academy Award-nominated actor in the lead roles.
To its credit, '2 Guns' has also lined up a fun cast that includes Edward James Olmos as an aging drug lord, James Marsden– who is once again sentenced to a role playing second fiddle – as Quince, Stigman's Navy intelligence handler, and Bill Paxton, as Earl – a sadistic mustachioed spook who is as eager to get his hands on the money as he is to play Russian roulette with anyone unlucky enough to have earned a sit-down chat with him. Paxton embodies Earl with the kind of thinly veiled homicidal rage that seems to be reserved for anyone in the upper echelons of the United States intelligence community and/or hit men from far reaching corners of the globe. And while Paxton is clearly relishing the opportunity to ham it up a bit and wear the same kind of lip wig he made fashionable in 'True Lies,' he's not the only one having a good time.
In fact, what sets '2 Guns' apart from other films of its ilk, is its boundless energy, playfulness and sense of humor. Adapted by Blake Masters – whose resume consists mostly of 'Law & Order: LA' episodes and one 'Rubicon' episode titled: 'Caught in the Suck' – the film's script is a hyperactive treat early on that is highlighted by Whalberg speaking with a manic intensity that's about as much fun as his bursts of memorably filthy dialogue from 'The Departed.' Meanwhile, Washington, too, has lightened up, leaving behind his recent tortured protagonist roles of recent memory to give Trench a far more charismatic presence that actually matches the borderline screwball antics of his would-be partner that is depicted when the two entertain with their unexpectedly charming chemistry during the lengthy, dialogue-heavy sequence that opens the film.
Despite a strong set-up and immediately likable characters, the film stumbles soon after, getting bogged down by its overwrought plot that amounts to little more than a simple chase film with some quick, explosive bits thrown in to keep the audience interested. On one hand, it's hard to think that anyone watching will be bored – especially with scenes that find Stigman and Trench arguing about yogurt while holding a hostage at the house of Trench's DEA handler, Deb (Paula Patton). But on the other hand, the main reason '2 Guns' maintains such a relentless pace, barely stopping to catch its breath in between gun battles and explosions, is that outside the action, it doesn't have a whole lot to say. There's a persistent sentiment about the corruptive power of money and the influence it can buy, particularly within certain clandestine areas of government, but the film doesn't seem interested in that concept beyond an excuse to blow things up and shoot people. It's a fairly basic idea that should have been thought-out and developed more, as the lack of a meaningful narrative winds up leaving the film completely without a sense that anything of any real importance is at stake, and by the time it reaches its climax, the story has long since begun to feel flat and totally bland.
Ultimately, we're left with a mostly charming, fast-paced movie made in a strangely down-to-earth style of filmmaking. Unfortunately all that charm is weighed-down by a relentlessly and unnecessarily twisty plot that, rather than consistently generating thrills and excitement, generates substantially diminished returns each time someone's true motivations are revealed. This effect finally results in the sense that nothing substantive is actually happening, which not only weakens the narrative, it also undoes all of the good the various lively performances had done to garner the audience's interest in the first place.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'2 Guns' comes from Universal as a 50GB Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. The Blu-ray is standard Universal fare, with plenty of skippable previews before the top menu. As an added bonus, there is supplemental material included on the Blu-ray that is not available on the DVD.
'2 Guns' comes with a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer that delivers a good but not great image that is occasionally impaired by some soft focus around the edges and a general lack of fine detail in certain segments of the film. For the most part, the image is as you'd expect it to be: filled with plenty of fine detail and textural elements that help to give the picture its punch, as well as a feeling of depth and clarity. In addition, there is a consistently high level of contrast that helps keep the image from running too wild with its depiction of the hot South Texas environment – though there are times when the image does get a little crazy with that aspect. But it's clearly something the director intended, as there is some hint of filtering going on at certain points in the film.
As mentioned above, there are times when the image can get a tad hazy or blurry around the edges, which does detract from certain scenes. Other times, the entire image comes across feeling quite soft, but these are inconsistent enough that it doesn't detract too much from what is an otherwise good looking picture.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on '2 Guns' really manages to give the film the presentation it deserves. As an action movie, there are certain expectations that come from the audience expecting big, boisterous gunshots and explosions, but also a bombastic score and maybe a familiar tune, or two. All of this is presented quite well by the mix, but it also does a terrific job of making sure the dialogue is clean and easy to here. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about the mix is the way it manages to balance the separate parts of the soundtrack and make them meld together in a cohesive, but distinct manner.
That being said, the mix presents a very nice dynamic range that utilizes all the channels at its disposal in familiar and unique ways that create a fulfilling and immersive listening experience. Most of the dialogue is delivered through the center channel, while the sound effects and score are primarily pushed through the front right and left speaker, affording the rear channels the chance to handle atmospheric effects and the occasional bit of dialogue or score that creeps through. But the rear channels also pull double-duty by granting the mix a fantastic sense of directionality that really plays up the back and forth dialogue between Washington and Whalberg and creates incredibly rich action sequences.
Overall, this is a great sounding disc that fulfills the needs of your typical action film, while still managing to make sure the actor's and environment aren't forgotten.
The straightforward, buddy-comedy set-up will likely appeal to a wide audience on home video. And while that will be all some are looking for out of the film, there will be others who would have liked to have seen more of a compelling story developed around two remarkably likable characters brought to life in a surprising way, by two actors who you wouldn’t think would have that level of chemistry together. Ultimately, '2 Guns' is a fun film that skimped a little too much on the story, by trying to fill too much of its time with a series of double-crosses and unnecessary reveals. Still, with a good picture, great sound and some interesting special features, it's worth a look.