‘2 Guns’ shines with 2 stars

“2 Guns” is a good, old-fashioned star vehicle, a movie wholly dependent upon the considerable charms of its two stars.

Replace Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg with any other actors, and this convoluted crime caper opens on DVD, not in 2,800 theaters.

But “2 Guns” does have Washington and Wahlberg in its holsters, and director Baltasar Kormakur (who directed Wahlberg in “Contraband”) is smart enough to realize they are his best weapons. The script by Blake Masters, adapting Steven Grant’s graphic novel, gives the stars plenty of room to banter, to push each other’s buttons and strut their stuff.

Wahlberg’s Stig is cocky, capable and overeager. He’s like a big puppy, constantly craving attention.

Washington’s Bobby is more laidback but just as compelling. He’s a seasoned veteran who still can carry his own in a fist fight or a gun battle.

Bobby is a DEA agent and Stig is a Navy intelligence officer, and both are trying to infiltrate the same Mexican drug cartel. Unaware of the other’s true identity, Bobby and Stig decide to goad kingpin Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) by robbing the savings and loan where they believe he stashes his cash.

Instead of finding a few million dollars in the safety deposit boxes, they find $43 million, and the money doesn’t belong to Papi’s cartel but an organization even more powerful and deadly.

Bobby and Stig learn the truth about each other and team up to figure out who the money belongs to and who all is responsible for double crossing them.

The answer to the latter is just about everyone. “2 Guns” has a healthy dose of ’70s institutional cynicism. Government entities are at least as corrupt as Papi’s cartel, but Kormakur doesn’t seem interested in politics. It just gives Bobby and Stig more folks to fight against.

And watching Washington and Wahlberg fight each other and everyone else is great fun.

Wahlberg is hilarious, playing a character that almost seems like a parody of his past action heroes, similar to what he did in “Date Night.” And in a scene where Stig comes to the defense of some chickens that are being used as target practice by Papi’s henchmen, I couldn’t help but think of the Saturday Night Live sketch “Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals.” (He does tell the chicken in that sketch, “We should do a film together, what do you think?”)

Washington’s swagger is more implicit than explicit, but their different energies work well on screen. This is their first film together; I doubt that it will be their last.

Masters’ screenplay also spreads the wealth, providing several scene-stealing supporting roles, the best of which is played by Bill Paxton as a shadowy figure who wants his $43.125 million back. Fred Ward has a nice scene as a Navy admiral more interested in protecting the Navy’s reputation than uncovering the truth. Paula Patton is a lovely presence as a fellow DEA agent and a one-time girlfriend of Bobby. And James Marsden, who’s spent most of his career in pretty boy roles, is convincing as a ruthless Naval officer.

There are a lot of twists in the crime caper. Some are easy to predict, others are muddled in the way they play out on screen. Frankly, I quit caring around the midway point and became a cinematic astronomer, happy to watch the stars shine.