Mark Wahlberg seems to be losing his criminal edge. As a reluctant smuggler in last year's Contraband, he excelled at sneaking illegal goods into the Port of New Orleans right under the authorities' noses. Re-teaming here with director Baltasar Kormákur, he now lacks any sense of intuition, instead playing one of two moles who can't smell a rat to save their lives.
The rather implausible set-up is that Stig (Wahlberg), an undercover officer for Naval Intelligence, has teamed with undercover DEA agent Bobby (Denzel Washington) in a bid to ingratiate themselves to a Mexican cartel boss. Despite having worked together for a year and shared breakfasts of warmed-over Reservoir Dogs dialogue, each fully believes the other to be a hardened criminal.
Conversely, neither star convinces us this is anything more than an easy paycheck, with each coasting on charm and a knack for casually tossing around banter as if playing catch in the park. After his strung-out turn in Flight, Washington seems content sunning himself and checking out the scenery (including Paula Patton in a demeaning role). Meanwhile, Wahlberg is poorly served by such a lackadaisical approach, as he's traditionally excelled when either petulant (The Departed) or put upon (The Fighter).
Even when things inevitably go sideways, Clinton Shorter's funky score assures us that everything is totally cool. It's apparent his compositions are intended to instill a groove recalling Out of Sight. Alas, whereas Steven Soderbergh's film had Elmore Leonard's jazzy prose, 2 Guns has Blake Masters' clunky script, in which gratuitous explosions are the preferred form of punctuation.
Aggravatingly, Kormákur's film hasn't much patience with its own high-concept premise, opting to have Stig and Bobby abandon their ruses at the first available opportunity. At that point, the plot depends increasingly on the machinations of an uninspired rogues' gallery, including James Marsden as a pissy, corrupt military officer and Bill Paxton as a sadistic Bill Paxton in a bolo tie.
Their introduction serves only to clutter the stage for a climax that unfolds with all the subtlety of a herd of bulls storming through a Mexican standoff. And please don't mistake that for an analogy. As its title suggests, 2 Guns doesn't go for such fanciful things.
Critic's Grade: C
SEE IT: 2 Guns is rated R. It opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Clackamas, Lloyd Center, Division, Pioneer Place, Tigard.