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film review

Denzel Washington, left, and Mark Wahlberg star in the action-comedy 2 Guns.The Canadian Press

Like most movies released during the summer months, 2 Guns was adapted from a comic book. It disguises its hand-drawn roots fairly well, however. To the uninitiated, Baltasar Kormákur's energetic action-comedy might suggest another literary source: the deadpan crime novels of Elmore Leonard.

That's a compliment, by the way. Leonard is a modern master of screwball narrative complications and chest-puffing, tough-guy banter, and for its hilarious first half, 2 Guns holds up its end in both departments. Decked out in a fedora and gold fillings, Denzel Washington has a high old time playing a low-roller named Bobby Trench, the best-connected crook in Texas. Washington's flamboyant performances tend to be his worst, but this time, his exuberance has a purpose: it's revealed fairly early on that Bobby is actually an embedded DEA agent. His whole flamboyant-scumbag persona is a put-on designed to attract his latest mark.

That'd be Stig (Mark Wahlberg), a muscular, hot-tempered thug who Bobby is using to get closer to a Mexican drug lord (Edward James Olmos). But Stig isn't what he seems, either. He's an undercover Navy intelligence officer running a sting operation, and his bosses are even more highly placed than Bobby's. Eventually, the two undercover brothers goad each other into ripping off a small-town bank where the drug runners are laundering their money – each one thinking that they'll be bringing in an extra bad guy in the bargain.

The heist initially goes off without a hitch, but the film keeps dropping hints that the pair is in over their heads. During the robbery, Stig wears a clown mask straight out of Stanley Kubrick's The Killing – a classic about how the best laid plans can always go awry.

Kormákur isn't Kubrick, of course, and 2 Guns isn't really about anything beyond its own swaggering cleverness, which starts to wane somewhere around the midpoint. Once Bobby and Stig realize that they've each been set up by their bosses to take the fall for the bank robbery – the money from which mysteriously goes missing – they head off the grid to regroup. As much fun as it is to watch them snipe at each other while they're biding their time, it's all too obvious where the movie is headed. Suffice it to say there will be more than two guns on hand when it gets there.

That a movie this fleet and lean succumbs to action-blockbuster bloat in the home stretch is both disappointing and predictable, although the director deserves credit for keeping the climactic shootouts slick and spatially coherent. 2 Guns also earns kudos for its supporting cast, which includes Bill Paxton as a Panama-hatted CIA spook who specializes in enhanced interrogation techniques and James Marsden as Wahlberg's smirking superior officer. (Paula Patton, who plays Bobby's boss and sometime lover, is mostly wasted, although her romantic scenes with Washington have a nice sense of déjà vu). Wahlberg, whose dim-bulb act was over-exposed in Pain and Gain, fares better here in a more heroic role. Stig is a hothead and a narcissist, but he's also just a little bit smarter than he looks. The same goes for 2 Guns as a whole.

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