About “2 Guns,” know this: There are a whole lot more than two guns in “2 Guns.”

There are CIA guns, DEA guns, U.S. Navy guns and Mexican drug-cartel guns, all pointed and fired at the picture’s pair of protagonists portrayed by Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Who, as you might guess from that title, possess their share of shooting irons as well.

Despite its A-list stars, “2 Guns” is a subpar B-movie shoot-’em-up that’s lackadaisical, cynical and slow.

How cynical? Well, pretty much everyone in it is a dirty, double-dealing so-and-so. The Navy guys are as duplicitous as the CIA people, who are no better than the cartel killers with whom they are in cahoots.

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We’ve come to expect this kind of thing in contemporary thrillers. In an era when trust in government is deep in the dumper, the everyone-in-government-is-corrupt scenario is an easy default setting for thriller makers like director Baltasar Kormákur, who previously worked with Wahlberg in last year’s “Contraband.”

The thing about the everyone-is-evil setting is that it kills the element of surprise. After the first few double-crosses go down, you twig to the fact that, “Oh, it’s that kind of movie,” where the betrayals are not merely expected but inevitable.

At the heart of the film’s tangle of duplicity are the characters played by Washington and Wahlberg. Washington
is a deep-cover DEA agent while Wahlberg is a covert naval intelligence operative. They’ve been working together to pull a fast one on a cartel kingpin played by Edward James Olmos. At first, neither knows of the other’s secret, and both have been tasked by their superiors to betray the other for various nefarious reasons. Double-cross is followed by triple-cross and on and on … through countless numerical iterations of betrayal. And with each easily anticipated twist comes gunplay.

The picture’s saving grace is the easy camaraderie displayed by its stars. Wahlberg’s character is an impetuous jokester who always assures his partner that he’s got all kinds of well-thought-out plans to get them out of a succession of deadly jams. Invariably it turns out there’s no plan at all, just a variety of harebrained stunts made up on the spur of the moment. By contrast, Washington’s agent is a way cool customer (even the prospect of a .38-caliber castration fails to faze him) who views Wahlberg’s antics with bemused skepticism. They interact well, and they’re given plenty of time to pepper each other with one-liners and taunts. Maybe a little too much time, especially in the opening sequence where their bantering goes on for so long you wonder if the movie is ever going to get into gear.

When the action finally kicks in, it’s a succession of shootouts and car chases and some pretty ugly scenes of torture, the latter courtesy of Olmos and Bill Paxton, who plays a super-sadistic CIA guy. No worries, though. This is one of those movies where a bad guy can whale on the trussed-up good guys with a baseball bat, and in the next scene they’re walking around good as new. Which, as far as action movies go, is the same old same old.

Soren Andersen: asoren7575@yahoo.com