It is hard to catalogue all the ways this movie is bad. Fortunately, it is bad in an instructional way, serving as an exemplar of most everything wrong with American action blockbusters today.
First, it is lazy. Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg are involved in the shenanigans of Mexican drug lord Edward James Olmos but are actually working for other governmental interests, unbeknownst to each other. Getting them on the same team hinges completely on Wahlberg’s idiotic revelation to his superiors that he did not kill Washington (he, in fact, merely shot him). They ask, he does not lie, and all the best laid plans are undone, making Wahlberg’s character unbelievably stupid, but not as stupid as you, the viewer.
Second, the attempt to replicate the “bang bang” buddy cop repartee of Lethal Weapon fails utterly. Wahlberg and Washington bust their humps to make it work, but the dialogue is unfunny and disjointed, and the central plot device (they rob a bank that has too much money in it) is an old trope.
Third, the story is not silly enough to be camp or cohesive enough to be plausible. It never really laughs at itself but expects you to take it somewhat seriously. It is totally haphazard.
Fourth, serious or campy, the action is minimal and what action there is comes off blocky and mundane. As my son remarked, “This is like Jackie Brown if Jackie Brown sucked.”
Fifth, when the repartee between Wahlberg and Washington thuds to the ground, we get warmed-over Tarantino. Bill Paxton’s turn as a CIA baddie suggests the eclectic but is really no more than a Roger Moore-era Bond villain.
Last, there is cheap, hip anti-Americanism. DEA, CIA, U.S. Navy, all rotten to the core. Olmos is also given free reign to condescend to the gringos, and when Washington runs into trouble on the Mexican border, it’s in the form of anti-immigrant yahoos flying the Stars and Bars and insulting Muslim Americans. Unbearably, when Wahlberg and Washington have to cross the Mexican border illegally, they do it with stoic Mexicans to the tune of some shitty, self important pop tune by Danger Mouse. You can feel the characters grow more charitable in outlook, which will help when they waste a couple of dozen bad guys later. Thank you, Mr. Director from Iceland and Mr. Writer of Law and Order.