2 Guns: They Shoot, They Bore

Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg flirt with each other in this sloppy, gun-centric action flick

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Patti Perret / Universal Studios

My notes from the action comedy 2 Guns look like this: Stick? … Steak? … Stick … No, Stig! … Stig?

That it was difficult to ascertain a piece of information as basic as the name of Mark Wahlberg’s character surely says something about this confusing mess of a movie. (The credits read “Marcus ‘Stig’ Stigman,” but you can understand my confusion what with all those beefy Wahlbergian muscles.) In this buddy flick, Wahlberg capably plays the hammy, wacky partner to Denzel Washington’s cooler, tough-guy cop Bobby Trench. They’re cute together, these two big stars, but the film around them, a sort of Tarantino lite, is desperately empty.

Tracing its lineage back to the Lethal Weapon series2 Guns presents what might be the most cynical assortment of bad guys ever gathered in a single film. Stig and Bobby are working undercover, posing as drug dealers, but neither knows the truth about each other’s motives. Bobby works for the DEA, and he’s trying to bring in a Mexican drug kingpin named Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). Steak, er, Stig — whom Papi describes, accurately, as a “real junkyard dog” used to be a naval intelligence officer. Booted for some infraction, he wants to steal Papi’s profits to clear his Navy record. I tried hard to be attentive but still couldn’t tell you how this is all explained, maybe because so much of the movie’s exposition tends to be delivered through loud (and distracting) exchanges of gunfire.

While Bobby and Stig can’t trust each other, they do need each other — just like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but without the sexual tension. To complicate matters further, after Bobby and Stig’s successful heist, the CIA comes calling. It seems the stolen stash actually belongs to the CIA, which has been skimming 7% of all the drug kingpins’ cash and putting it in a community bank in a nice quiet little corner of Americana.

I’ll believe a lot of negative fictions about the CIA — look at the way the agency treats Homeland’s tortured genius Carrie Mathison — but the CIA angle in 2 Guns was the tipping point to despair. (The kind of despair where you think, Of all the scripts out there, the great Denzel Washington was drawn to this.) The agency is represented by Earl (Bill Paxton), a heavily accented Southerner who likes to wear bolo ties and suits with a cowboy cut to them. He’s vicious, heartless and fond of playing Russian roulette. Problem is: it’s Bill Paxton! Has anyone ever been truly afraid of Bill Paxton?

(MORE: TIME’s Review of Denzel Washington’s Flight)

There is but one woman in this movie, a DEA agent and occasional lover of Bobby’s named Debbie (Paula Patton). Patton is a perfectly fine actress, but the way she’s used here is relentlessly crass. In a scene that stretches the limits of hairstyling, she appears topless, but, thanks to the extensions cascading over her shoulders, almost discreetly so. You can imagine the clause in her contract: nipples yes, but only if they’re nearly veiled by hair, à la Brooke Shields in her Blue Lagoon days.

Director Baltasar Kormakur (who also directed Wahlberg in the much-less-tedious Contraband) employs a number of techniques to try to keep the viewer engaged, including disorienting flashbacks and jazzy slow-motion moments that turn into freeze-frames, but his source material is so weak, it becomes a real effort to keep up. The action sequences — there are enough guns in this movie to make the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre weak in the knees — are drearily unexceptional. This could be any buddy flick made in the past five years, with the chemistry between Washington and Wahlberg offering the only flicker of excitement.

And that’s not saying much. A couple of handsome middle-aged guys exchanging wry glances and wisecracks between wrestling matches and aiming guns at each other only goes so far. By the time Bobby and Stig are hog-tied and dangled to be beaten with baseball bats like a pair of hunky piñatas, their mutual suspicions have evolved, to no one’s surprise, into a full-blown bromance.  

Perhaps it says something that this movie is being released in August, which has become a notorious dumping ground for studios. 2 Guns is reflective of the low opinion today’s Hollywood has for movie audiences — that  we should be delighted to pay to watch some attractive actors wielding every kind of firearm. Our advice: Stay home and watch for real shooting stars instead.

MORE: TIME’s Review of Mark Wahlberg’s Contraband