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Star power loads '2 Guns' with clever banter, bullets

| Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, 8:32 p.m.

Why would anyone want to sit through yet another action film where the bad guys can't shoot straight and the good guys can't miss, where the plot mistakes twists for cleverness and the romance is rote?

Because it stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, that's why.

Their chemistry, in a sort of anti-buddy film, carries director Baltasar Kormakur's “2 Guns.” You could do far worse than watch Washington and Wahlberg bicker back and forth for a couple of hours, pausing every now and then to shoot somebody. Throw in a little serious scenery-chewing from Bill Paxton and Edward James Olmos at their most bad-ass and, hey, why not?

We first see Bobby Trench (Washington) and Stig Stigman (Wahlberg) as they're setting up a small-town bank robbery. It involves a restaurant with the best doughnuts in three counties and a lot of back-and-forth patter. They want what they think is the $3 million inside belonging to Papi Greco (Olmos), the drug-cartel boss they've been working for.

Only not really. Almost none of that is true. For one thing, there isn't $3 million in the bank. More like $40 million plus. More importantly, Bobby is actually an undercover DEA agent. Stig is an undercover Naval intelligence officer. Neither one knows this, and Kormakur lets that ignorance play out longer than you'd expect.

The levels of intrigue go deep enough (too deep, really) that none of this is really spoiler material. It just sets the story in motion.

Of course, you don't steal that kind of money without a few people noticing. These people include Bobby's fellow DEA agent (and former girlfriend) Deb (Paula Patton), Stig's boss Quince (James Marsden) and a mysterious, sadistic man named Earl (Paxton), whose identity figures into just one of the many double-crosses and twists, which are fun for a while but, eventually, pile on until they're a distraction.

Bobby and Stig figure out each other's true identities and form what is supposed to be an uneasy alliance but is instead an adorably chummy relationship between two guys whose obvious affection wouldn't get in the way of shooting each other if the situation called for it.

Bobby is the sharp-dressing silent type, while Stig is more of a T-shirt-wearing act-first-think-later man. Sometimes, this leads to stupid decisions, such as taking on an entire Naval base. It's screamingly implausible, but by this point, your investment in the characters is likely to be enough to let that slide. That Blake Masters' screenplay is based on a graphic novel will come as no surprise.

In some ways, “2 Guns” is a throwback, refreshingly so. It's all banter and bullets, without a lot of heavy meaning beyond the usual: friendship, trust, etc. You realize at some point that you know almost nothing about any of the characters beyond what we see immediately in front of us. But Kormakur keeps the action so relentless that it takes a little while to notice.

Again, Wahlberg and Washington are so good together, quips flying as fast as bullets, that much is forgiven.

Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic is the chief film critic for Gannett.

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