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'2 Guns' review: Now that's a buddy comedy

*** (out of four)

Easily underestimated, "2 Guns" actually contains about 15 times more guns and roughly that many laughs. If somehow you've never admitted that Mark Wahlberg's hilarious, you're going to have to give in: He's having a blast in "2 Guns" and makes a lot of good lines great.

Bobby (Denzel Washington) and Stig (Wahlberg) want to knock over a small Texas bank to stick it to a drug kingpin (Edward James Olmos) who broke a deal and killed their friend. Both partners think they know all they need to about each other -- and both are wrong. This leads to a complicated mess after the expected $3 million haul turns out to be $43.125 million (a specific amount frequently referenced by a shady dude (Bill Paxton who really wants that cash). Bobby and Stig then must try to figure out if the other -- or, really, anyone -- is on his side.

This is what a star vehicle should be: a well-written project that works without the big names but shines with them. Unlike "The Heat," which packaged Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock as types instead of characters and gave them hardly anything funny to work with, "2 Guns" allows Washington and Wahlberg room to roam within their usual smooth, charming selves. They're appealing whether they bicker about breakfast or turn a game of chicken into a fistfight out their windows. Paula Patton and James Marsden contribute good supporting work, too. While the setting of "2 Guns" certainly resembles the just-OK Schwarzenegger action-Western "The Last Stand," the former is about four times better-acted and five times as clever.

Working from graphic novels I didn't know existed, writer Blake Masters and director Baltasar Kormakur ("Contraband") should have followed through on the film's early playfulness toward style and structure (jazzy hints of Soderbergh quickly disappear). "2 Guns" also may not have the pacing or moral smarts to match its wit, but it's the kind of personality-driven summer entertainment that's both easy to forget and recommend.

If you think you might like it, you will. If you think you won't, see Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine." A ticket-line argument about two solid, varied options is a good problem to have.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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