If that sounds like a promising start for a movie called 2 Guns, it's because it is. The first 30 minutes are as slick as Bobby and Stig's vintage Dodge Challenger, with a riotous conversation at a diner (glints of Tarantino), smartly-placed flashbacks, and perfect pacing all the way through the heist. There's even a risky bit of tripling-back to prior events before we finally witness the robbery. In the wrong hands, it might have come across like the third bad joke from an already-tipsy Best Man, but instead, it only adds to the building tension, a testament to Baltasar Kormákur's directorial confidence.
Regrettably, that's about all there is to 2 Guns, which proceeds to crack open a beer, throw its boots up on the coffee table, and settle into a formulaic buddy cop sitcom for the remaining hour of the film. Granted, there's still a mystery to be solved (who's really behind the bank robbery? why?), but the answers are so lazy and uninteresting you'll wish you were just left to wonder.
Though the sharp plotting dulls to a nub by the middle of the movie, Wahlberg and Denzel keep the proceedings (just) funny enough to keep the film compelling. Denzel calibrates Bobby to an amusing happy medium between grandfatherly mentor and too-old-for-this-shit veteran. He prefers to proceed by the book, but Stig's juvenile spontaneity proves too enticing to resist. Meanwhile, Wahlberg milks his role as the charismatic youth, flirting with waitresses, hatching three new plans an hour, and picking fights with guys 100 pounds heavier than him. Stig's nonsense routinely exasperates Bobby, but like a proud pet owner, Bobby can't help but privately enjoy Stig's antics, even as he chastises them. If there's one net positive from 2 Guns, it's that we now know where to find our two leads for the next great buddy cop flick.
Outside of Wahlberg and Denzel, precisely one role in 2 Guns deserves praise. Earl (Bill Paxton, charming and repulsive) drips with fake southern hospitality as the CIA rep out to see that the federal government gets its way. He's appropriately treacherous in his interrogation scenes, and the only villain in the film (there are at least half a dozen) that doesn't seem like a bad cartoon character. Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) is serviceable, though unmemorable as the generic Mexican mob boss whose threats never carry the weight they should. James Marsden (previously, Cyclops in X-Men) exhibits virtually zero emotional range as naval officer Quince, maintaining a rigid, who-drank-my-last-beer scowl for the entirety of the film. Paula Patton (playing, by my count, the only non-waitress female speaking part in the entire film) delivers a dud of a performance as Deb (Bobby's love interest). The script doesn't help her—it's the classic dumbed-down, male-conceived, sex-driven role—but in the end, she just flat-out can't act.
Were the vanishing plot, mixed performances, and male-centered script the movie's only flaws, I'd probably recommend the film on the strength of Wahlberg's and Denzel's performances alone. Unfortunately, 2 Guns is also oddly tone-deaf in its second-half, where the film uniformly mixes barrels of jokes with buckets of blood. Perhaps it's just how action-comedies go, but by the final shootout, I couldn't decide whether to laugh at the banter, marvel at the explosions, lament the body count, or decry government overreach (each of which competes for your attention). Stig's cheerful personality starts as a film highlight, then becomes a little unsettling as he winks and grins after slaying two dozen Mexican gunmen. There's a meaningful difference between killing with grim satisfaction and slaying with boyish playfulness, and even in an action-comedy like 2 Guns, that difference matters.
Once the dust settles on the film's climatic gunfight, we begin the obligatory slow-zoom-out as our heroes(?) walk into the sunset. Suddenly, Bobby remembers one of the hundred playful threats he made over the course of the film. "Give me your gun," he demands, "I said I was going to shoot you." "C'mon man," says Stig, who actually complies with the request, before adding, "Seriously?" Just like the movie itself, the moment is funny, a little unexpected, and patently absurd. But as I replay 2 Guns in my head, I'm ultimately inclined to agree with Stig. Seriously?