What looks like a rather standard buddy action comedy is elevated by a smarter-than-normal script, skilful direction and surprisingly offhanded chemistry between Washington and Wahlberg. In addition to the usual action chaos, the film lets big issues gurgle under the surface while refusing to play it safe. For example, the villain here is the US government, rather than some cliched foreign nutcase.
It's set on the US-Mexico border, where smooth operator Bobby (Washington) is working with fast-talking Stig (Wahlberg) to make a deal with the drug kingpin Papi Greco (Olmos). When they decide to rob a local bank to get his attention, the whole situation blows up in their faces. Not only does it emerge that both are undercover federal agents (Bobby with the DEA and Stig with Navy Intelligence), but their bosses (Burke and Marsden, respectively) are unwilling to protect them. Even Bobby's colleague-girlfriend (Patton) can't really help. And now they're being chased by everyone, including Papi and a swaggering killer (Paxton) with connections to the CIA.
The rather crazy plot demands that we pay attention as each of these factions is brought into focus, and it's refreshing to see a big movie that never abandons its own internal logic. Everything does indeed fit together into a larger picture, and since Bobby and Stig are alone in trying to figure it out, we happily go with them. Washington and Wahlberg are having a lot of fun with these characters as they jostle against each other in various displays of messy bravado. Opposite them, Patton has a thankless sexy-female role, but Olmos is quietly fierce, and Paxton steals every scene as a cocky, sneering villain who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.
As the plot gets increasingly tangled, we're always aware that the film is actually touching on some very big issues, including the fact that budget cuts have made government agencies get creative about financing their work. There are also strong comments on the drug war and illegal immigration that add some heft to what's essentially a big action comedy with lots of mindless explosions. Yes, it's very violent, but it's also remarkably edgy and funny, continually catching us off guard with complex character details. And in the end, we hope to see Bobby and Stig on the run again someday.
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Friday 2nd August 2013
Box Office USA: $75.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $131.9M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Studios, Emmett/Furla Films, Envision Entertainment Corporation, Marc Platt Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 109 Rotten: 63
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Screenwriter: Blake Masters
Starring: Denzel Washington as Robert 'Bobby' Trench, Mark Wahlberg as Michael 'Stig' Stigman, Paula Patton as Deb, Bill Paxton as Earl, Fred Ward as Admiral Tuwey, James Marsden as Quince, Edward James Olmos as Papi Greco, Robert John Burke as Jessup, Tait Fletcher as Mini