There are two things you need to know about 2 Guns. First, turns out it’s pretty good. Second, it has a crazy plot. Cuckoo bananagrams crazy. It’s one of those movies where everyone is secretly betraying everyone all of the time. Like, if the characters in 2 Guns just sat in a room, went around in a circle, and described all of their various motivations, it would take three hours. Everyone is lying in 2 Guns all the time, so much so that the movie practically constitutes a deconstruction of the whole notion of truth. It gets a bit confusing. Forthwith, an attempt to figure out precisely what happens in 2 Guns and why. (Spoilers from here, natch.)
So there are three main obvious villains in 2 Guns, along with one secret villain who may actually be the reason why everything in the movie happens. James Marsden plays a corrupt Naval Intelligence officer who sends Mark Wahlberg undercover, with the stated mission of stealing money from drug cartels in order to fund Naval black ops. It’s never explained why the Navy is so active in a film that is entirely landlocked. (There’s a scene where Marsden meets Wahlberg in the middle of nowhere, wearing his dress whites – it’s like seeing a SCUBA diver wearing flippers climb Mount Everest.) Wahlberg believes he’s stealing money from an evil druglord played by Edward James Olmos, who apparently spends about half his time living in a big house in suburban Texas and wearing a Tony Soprano bathrobe. But he’s actually stealing money from the CIA. Specifically, from a CIA slush fund operated by Bill Paxton.
Now, Bill Paxton is more or less playing the satan-god of the CIA in this movie. But in stark contrast to the typical post-Bourne portrayal of businesslike CIA people, Paxton rocks a bolo tie and a thickening good-ol’-boy accent and generally carries himself like Rick Perry doing a Blofeld impression. Paxton spends the movie trying to get the money back. One thing that wasn’t quite clear to me: Was he working as a CIA officer, trying to get back money that belonged to the agency? Or was he using his CIA connections as a cover – had he actually stolen the money from the agency? I’m pretty sure that it was the former. He mentions that the CIA has 19 other banks filled with slush-fund cash around the country. So everything he was doing was done with the full backing of the US government. Which kinda makes 2 Guns the most anti-government blockbuster of the year.
Paxton is nominally the Big Bad of the movie, and his motivations are relatively straightforward: Get back the money. Likewise, Olmos’ motivations are easy to understand: He eventually decides that he wants the money himself. (He’s separately in cahoots with Paxton – the film establishes that Olmos’ cartel pays an operating tax to the CIA, and in return, flies drugs into America on CIA planes. Seriously, The X-Files had a more positive vision of the American government than 2 Guns.)
But Marsden is a bit trickier. You initially think that he sent Wahlberg undercover to get the money for himself. But it turns out that he was actually working with a silent partner: Paula Patton, who has a twisty romantic history with Denzel Washington. They’re both DEA agents; we see them sleeping together, although it’s clear that Washington has never quite been able to enter into a serious relationship with her. If I understand the movie correctly, Paula Patton and James Marsden somehow met up separately, and decided to use their two undercover agents as patsies in an elaborate heist scheme. (Another possibility: Washington and Wahlberg found each other coincidentally, and Patton and Marsden figured out that they were both undercover before they did. Espionage makes my head hurt.)
It’s implied that Patton was doing all this to spite Washington – she’s a lover spurned, who figured she could get $20 million even if she couldn’t have him. She actually feels bad about the whole thing, right before Olmos shoots her in the head. Here’s where it gets really unlikely: Washington finds her corpse, is sad, notices that she is wearing a familiar ring, and gets the idea of checking out the motel room where they used to hook up. Inside of the motel room, he finds the stolen $43 million, hidden inside of a bed. Left unexplained: Why the hell Paula Patton, super-smart DEA agent, thought it was a good idea to hide the GDP of Liechtenstein inside of a random motel room. Also left unexplained: Were Patton and Marsden actually romantically involved? Or was the “dating” thing just a cover for their heist plan?
2 Guns ends with an old-fashioned three-ring circus shootout, with our heroes bringing together all three bad-guy factions to cancel each other out. Wahlberg and Washington survive, because they have the power of friendship or whatever. But then, in an epilogue, we see the two of them casing another bank, pointing out a couple of obvious CIA agents; it’s implied that this is their new existence, basically, going around to the 19 other CIA slush-fund sites and clearing it out. (Possible sequel title: 2 Guns, 19 Banks.)
Actually, the more I think about it, the ending of 2 Guns is super-dark. They both get repudiated by their respective agencies: Washington is framed for the murder of his boss, while Wahlberg is told by the Grand Admiral of the Navy that he will be considered AWOL and will be shot on sight if he ever steps foot on a military base. So basically, 2 Guns ends with Wahlberg and Washington in a buddy comedy version of Nowhere Man, their lives erased, on an endless cross-country trek to destroy the CIA’s black-ops bank account. But the important thing is: They have each other. They’re, like, anarchists. (ASIDE: Maybe in the sequel, they can get a whole team of people together and launch an all-out revolution against the corrupt forces in the American government. And since 2 Guns was produced by Universal, maybe they can just team up with Vin Diesel. Could that be why Washington was in the conversation for the next Fast & Furious movie? 2 Guns 2 Furious! END OF ASIDE.)
In short, if I understand the movie correctly, everything would have been fine if Denzel Washington could’ve just been a better boyfriend to Paula Patton. So 2 Guns is anti-government, but pro-monogamy. More Lessons learned: Drug cartels are evil, the Navy is evil-er, and the CIA is the evil-est of all. I actually think it’s possible to read 2 Guns as a Middle East allegory. Marsden is the military, launching an attack on a foreign force and winding up dangerously enmeshed with that force. (Just replace “cartels” with “insurgents.”) Paxton is the military-industrial complex, a government agent who vibes like an oil man. Washington and Wahlberg are Snowden-esque insiders who wind up going against the system. Paula Patton was, I dunno, George Tenet. Of course, the puppy was just a dog. But the industry, my friends? That was a revolution.