A low bar is cleared, though with some difficulty, by "2 Guns," a buddy-cop movie that would never work without the top-notch talents of Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. It's a jumbled film with a lazy plot and poorly sketched action sequences, but the natural charm of its two stars, along with some colorful bit players, may put you in a forgiving mood.
Washington plays Bobby Trench, an easygoing, unflappable drug dealer whose partner in crime is Marcus Stigman, played by an amped-up, trash-talking Wahlberg. They've developed a comfortable camaraderie, bickering affectionately before, during and after each shootout. You know them well, moviegoers, and "2 Guns" won't force to you rethink any cliches.
The wrinkle is that each is working undercover -- Bobby with the Drug Enforcement Agency, Stigman with Naval Intelligence -- which the other realizes only after their latest caper goes horribly awry. In short order, they're pursued by Navy assassins (led by a sneering James Marsden), a Mexican drug lord (an earthy Edward James Olmos) and a sadistic good ol' boy named Earl (an excellent Bill Paxton), who uses both bullets and thumbtacks to extort information.
"2 Guns" is energetically directed by Baltasar Kormákur -- a welcome change from "Contraband," his dull vehicle for Wahlberg last year -- but he hews to so many conventions that his film can't establish its own personality. Its violence is mostly flashy but occasionally ugly, as when flies circle a severed head in a satchel. The humor is tepid: Stigman's shtick is winking at waitresses, Trench has a fondness for doughnuts. Paula Patton, as Bobby's sort-of girlfriend, provides a moment of genuine emotion, but it feels misplaced in this otherwise depthless macho fantasy.
Still, Washington cuts a cool figure in his dark shades and jaunty hat, and Wahlberg always looks impressive hoisting a shiny pistol. As they saunter through this rickety movie with confidence and ease, you might have a fairly good time just following them.
PLOT Two criminals, each unaware that the other is an undercover agent, run afoul of both sides of the law.
RATING R (violence throughout, language, brief nudity)
CAST Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton.
BOTTOM LINE An uneven mix of strong violence and weak comedy, but Washington and Wahlberg use their natural-born charm to pull us through the wreckage.