REVIEW: The Other Guys [2010]

“Aim for the bushes”

My loathsome attitude to ‘full-blown’ Will Ferrell is common knowledge with those who have been reading my reviews the past few years. He just has a knack to go too far and regress into a large, blithering child. It used to work with small supporting roles or comic relief parts such as in Old School, but once the American public grabbed hold, the joke wore thin when needing to sustain itself for a two-hour duration. But then something happened a couple years ago with Step Brothers. BFF, director, and production partner Adam McKay and he did the unthinkable—Ferrell scaled back on the obnoxious and let his surrounding cast pick up some of the slack. The result was a delightfully absurd romp alongside John C. Reilly, bringing many more laughs than headshaking. But no matter how surprised I was to find one Gary Sanchez film worthwhile, nothing prepared me to experience a second so quickly; yet here it is. The Other Guys—at least the first two-thirds—is belly laugh funny.

It’s interesting to note that a guy like Mark Wahlberg, full of confidence and stage presence while lacking an impressive amount of pure acting talent, can seem so unnatural when attempting a serious role devoid of gunplay or street talk and so fluid in overt comedy. You hear it all the time, how comedy is in fact the toughest duty of a thespian, to have the timing and attitude to pull it off when forlorn and depressed can be found at will. Wahlberg simply has what it takes to bring a laugh. Maybe it’s because he’s not the greatest actor and we can laugh with him, but I have to give the guy more credit than that. He really knows the beats and expressions necessary to get the job done and this role ranks up there with I Heart Huckabees as my favorites of his. He may be the tough, skilled, and brash half of the Hoitz and Gamble team, but somehow McKay and co-writer Chris Henchy got the script to make him the funny man. Ferrell’s Allen—bland, doltish, and ripe for ridicule—becomes the straight man, sitting back as Wahlberg’s glares and insults fall flat. In fact, they may both be the straight man, the tension between them standing in as the joke.

Buddy cop action tropes are infused into the plot, finding their way into the journey taken by disgraced cops Terry and Allen. Ferrell is a closeted college pimp who hit rock bottom before finding the safest job he could imagine—forensic accountant—and Wahlberg’s Terry had the misfortune of an accidental/on purpose firearm arm discharge no New York, red-blooded male can forgive him for, dubbing him the ‘Yankee Clipper’ and relegating the once fast-tracked detective to desk duty with ‘Mr. I’ll Volunteer and Do the Paperwork’. But hey, someone has to type out all those million dollar debacles of property destruction at the hands of super cops Highsmith and Danson (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) after nabbing high profile criminals like gun-toting potheads in possession of less than five ounces of Mary Jane. Those two are the badasses everyone, including Michael Keaton’s precinct Captain, idolizes while Hoitz and Gamble are the two they step on and denigrate. Who knew Gamble’s simple paper trail of one investment banker (Steve Coogan) and his neglect to obtain scaffolding permits for his property ‘remodeling’ would uncover the case of the decade?

Coogan’s David Ershon has made some very bad investments, causing militarized Chechens, Nigerians, and a very attractive looking Anne Heche to become a tad angry. Heche hires a clean-up crew, led by Ray Stevenson’s Wesley, to watch over him and make sure he retrieves the missing funds from a gullible sap before all parties leave the country for richer pastures. Thus puts into motion the massive cover-up of ill-made portfolio expansion by some of the city’s ruling class, road-blocking Terry and Allen at every turn, despite the duo finally proving themselves to be real police officers—or at least as real as these two train wrecks can appear. The Other Guys takes such pains to amp up the laughs by throwing as many character flaws and wacky pasts as possible, keeping audience members entertained and not necessarily fully invested in the actual espionage plot at hand. This is both good and bad. The former because I seriously haven’t laughed so hard at the movies in quite some time, the latter because once the film does need to wrap up loose ends and deal with the story, the pacing screeches to a halt.

It’s too bad since the film held such promise. But, like many Ferrell vehicles, the jokes reach a point where funny gives way to worn out. Little things like a continuous TLC gag become tired after a couple go-rounds, medium-sized things like Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr.’s cops looking to ruin our stars’ careers while making a name for their own half-assed jobs end up forgettable inclusions taking precious seconds away, and the obvious social problems both Ferrell and Wahlberg possess grow repetitious, their rapport’s intrinsic laugh factor disappearing from the lack of fresh material. Those first 50-minutes or so, though, do make the steady decline worth your trouble, especially since the trailer somehow manages to contain solely opening scenes. Now that is good marketing, using only the laughs necessary to bring audiences in without pilfering the best jokes from beginning to end. There is still a lot left to discover, including the wonderfully shot conclusion to Jackson and Johnson’s arc as ‘Big Men on Campus’. I don’t care what comes out in the next five months; the final scene with their two characters will live on to be the funniest sequence of the year.

Wahlberg and Ferrell do their job too, while letting seasoned masters of facial expression and line delivery like Keaton and Coogan spice things up. Watching both characters’ secret vices play out—the Brit’s penchant for youthful women and the ex-Batman’s second job in retail—add a layer of randomness that is welcome in the otherwise stereotypical cop flick at play. I know the whole endeavor is meant to be a send-up of the genre, similar to say Hot Fuzz, but the final third takes things too far into the realm of reality over satire. By far the most ‘complete’ film from McKay—I loved the freeze-framed, full-range maneuverability of a one-shot bar binge following Will and Mark through four different compromising positions in suspended animation—The Other Guys may do the action too well, pulling us as viewers away from the comedy, killing the buzz by replacing it with an adrenaline rush. Unfortunately, that high wasn’t what I wanted; not after the humor of what came before. Give me more sarcastic, cop flick, brass-heavy score; more car chases to cheesy soft rock like “Monday, Monday”; and more quizzical Wahlberg, contemplating Ferrell’s sex appeal to marry Eva Mendes. That’s the stuff I came to see and there is just enough to satisfy.

The Other Guys 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Will Ferrell, left, and Mark Wahlberg in Columbia Pictures’ comedy “The Other Guys”. Photo By: Macall Polay
[2] Samuel L. Jackson, left, and Dwayne Johnson in Columbia Pictures’ comedy “The Other Guys,” starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Photo By: Macall Polay


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