An adaptation of the little-known graphic novel series of the same name by Steven Grant, 2 Guns represents the second collaboration of star Mark Wahlberg and Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur. Whereas their last movie, 2012’s Contraband, was a deadly serious thriller, 2 Guns is more of a fun-loving buddy action film in the vein of Lethal Weapon, with colourful bantering and one-liners amid the violent shootouts. It very much recaptures the spirit of classic action movies from decades ago, to the extent that Bill Paxton even appears here, in what must be his first theatrical appearance since the 1990s. 2 Guns is ordinary in terms of narrative, but it roars to life on-screen, which is mainly thanks to Wahlberg and Denzel Washington, who carry the feature with their effortless charisma and chemistry.

Ostensibly two criminals on the hunt for a big score, Stig (Wahlberg) and Bobby (Washington) are actually undercover agents, but neither are aware of the other’s true identity. After unsuccessfully trying to score a major cocaine deal with Mexican drug lord Papi (Edward James Olmos), Stig and Bobby look to rob a local bank which holds a portion of Papi’s fortune. The pair expect a $3 million score, but wind up leaving the bank with in excess of $43 million, clueless about who the cash actually belongs to. Stig and Bobby soon find out about one another’s undercover status, but although they’re hesitant to trust each other, they realise that both of their agencies are crooked, and form a tentative alliance to get to the bottom of the situation. Meanwhile, shadowy figure Earl (Bill Paxton) pursues the duo, looking to retrieve the stolen money.

For reasons unknown, 2 Guns actually begins in a non-linear fashion, hopping around the timeline for a little while before the bank robbery occurs. The device makes no sense in this context, as it’s not effective in building a sense of intrigue or interest; instead, we’re just left thinking that a linear approach would’ve rendered the experience far smoother. Blake Masters’ screenplay is also overly convoluted, with Kormákur left struggling to keep the picture light on its feet as he dedicates huge chunks of time to the ancillary characters out of necessity. Thankfully, none of this is too crippling; the pacing is successful more often than not, as the bulkier scenes are interspersed with enjoyable moments of Stig and Bobby bantering. 2 Guns is a gritty film, but it’s pitched with a good-humoured tone, giving it a great deal of replay value.

Lethal Weapon spent a large portion of its runtime exploring the protagonists, delving into their personal lives to raise the stakes. 2 Guns is less interested in this type of material, placing most of its focus on sharp-tongued bantering and the developments of this crime plot. We do meet one of Bobby’s colleagues (Paula Patton) with whom he has some sort of a romantic bond, but she winds up coming off as a shallow plot pawn. Fortunately, the lack of character depth is not particularly problematic in the moment since 2 Guns is so much damn fun. One has to credit Kormákur for making the most of the meagre $61 million budget at his disposal, traversing several locales and pulling off a number of competent set-pieces that give the production an expensive look and feel. Most exceptional is the climax, which closes the story with rousing violence and a smidgen of well-judged humour. 2 Guns actually feels a bit like a Tony Scott movie due to its grittiness and technical proficiency, though Kormákur jettisons shaky-cam and rapid-fire editing in favour of something smoother. The R rating is also a huge asset to the film since it gives the production more flavour, and, thankfully, it would seem that practical blood squibs were used as opposed to CGI viscera.

Without a doubt, it’s the on-screen pairing of Wahlberg and Washington that keeps the film afloat more than anything else. Wahlberg is especially enjoyable, embracing his inherent comic talents to play Stig as a charming, sarcastic badass, as opposed to his more dramatic/brooding performances of late. He has all of the funniest lines, and he disperses them with gusto. Washington, on the other hand, is more mature and level-headed, making him a brilliant straight man to Wahlberg’s insanity. But it’s Paxton who perhaps steals the show. It’s rare to see Paxton on the big screen these days, and he relished the chance to play a bad guy here, infusing his performance with patient menace. You almost want him to survive.

Without breaking new ground or functioning as Oscar bait, 2 Guns is a success on its own terms, a late-summer surprise which represents one of the year’s old-school action highlights. It’s a messy, overly complicated movie that could’ve benefitted from tighter scripting, but it has a brilliant spark of personality thanks to the quality cast and the slick directorial efforts of Kormákur. If you’re in the right mood, 2 Guns delivers enough engaging action and playful comedy to ensure that it’s a worthwhile member of the R-rated mismatched buddy cop genre.