NEW YORK (Reuters) - Denzel Washington was looking for something light after his role as an alcoholic airline pilot in "Flight" and found it in "2 Guns," an action buddy film that showcases the two-time Academy Award winner's flair for comedy.
The film, which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, is new territory for Washington, who was nominated for his sixth Oscar for "Flight" and took home golden statuettes for the 2001 crime drama "Training Day" and the 1989 Civil War film "Glory."
Based on a 2008 BOOM! Studios graphic novel by Steven Grant, "2 Guns" pairs Washington, 58, with Mark Wahlberg, 42, who is fresh from his success with the 2012 talking teddy bear comedy "Ted," which earned nearly $550 million at the global box office.
"I was looking to do something to have more fun, so when I read the script and heard Mark was involved I was like, ‘Oh I could be safe because Mark is not just funny, he has a warmth and heart about him,'" Washington said.
"We're buddies. It's a buddy movie, so it was a chance to do that and to have fun."
It's the first time the pair has worked together and they emit an easy rapport, like Paul Newman and Robert Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the "Lethal Weapon" films.
Washington plays the smooth, gold-toothed, undercover narcotics cop Robert "Bobby" Trench, who with Wahlberg's by-the-code, sharpshooter U.S. Navy intelligence officer Marcus "Stig" Stigman, is trying to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel run by Papi Greco, played by Edward James Olmos.
Although partners, the unlikely duo don't trust each other and neither realizes that the other is an undercover agent until a bank robbery goes wrong and they are left to fend for themselves by their government superiors.
With explosions, car chases, shoot-outs and a pent-up bull with his eyes fixed on the pair suspended by their ankles, there is plenty of action and drama. But the relationship between the duo is the core of the film.
"It's about two guys. Usually they'll take the comedy guy, the really out there comedy guy, and the straight guy and put them together," said Wahlberg.
"We didn't want to do that. I felt like you had to have two really formidable opponents and to earn that camaraderie and to earn that trust in one another - that was really the movie."
PRESSURE TO BE FUNNY
Washington said he knew he had timing and had been told he was funny, but it was Wahlberg, a screenplay by Blake Masters with early 1970s action movies in mind, and some improvisation that freed him to try anything.
"I'm quick, but being funny on purpose, take after take, for me it was new territory," he said. "It's not easy, there's a pressure to be funny."
The movie was directed by Icelandic former actor Baltasar Kormakur, who said he was drawn to the film by the characters and the modern Western feel of the script. "2 Guns" is his second film with Wahlberg, having working with the actor on his American directorial debut, the 2012 crime thriller "Contraband."
Bill Paxton, who plays a ruthless, southern CIA operative who pries information from suspects about the missing money through games of Russian roulette, described Washington as "a great comedic actor."
"It's unfortunate that people don't get to see him in more comedy," he added.
But audiences may not have to wait too long.
"We have a couple of other pieces of material from the publisher that we are looking at," Wahlberg said.