Directed by: Adam McKay (Step Brothers)
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton. Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson
For me, admitting to having at least generally enjoyed an Adam McKay-Will Ferrell collaboration is akin to peeling the skin off my own face.
All right, so that’s a slight exaggeration. The truth is, I’d far rather attain some enjoyment out of frittering away an hour and 45 minutes than to instead spend that time in a state of miserableness. And by my reckoning, Messrs. McKay and Ferrell have previously frittered away about five hours of my time with earlier movies, and I have precious little to show for all those frits. That said, I’m actually pretty pleased with The Other Guys—not to the degree that I will be investing in the inevitable unrated DVD edition of it, nor to the degree that I’m actually recommending it. But still, pretty pleased.
My guess is that it helps that The Other Guys, with its fairly specific cop-buddy action format, has more form than usual for a McKay-Ferrell venture. This gives it a certain shape that allows for less in the way of utterly random digressions and—blessedly—almost no opportunities for Ferrell to launch into that least-appealing-of-all shticks, where he does everything but scream, “Hey, look at me! I’m being funny now!” It also probably helps that Ferrell has been teamed with a terrific partner in Mark Wahlberg. This last factor may actually be what makes the film work more than it doesn’t.
Casting Ferrell and Wahlberg as a pair of underwhelming cops who’ve ended up being partners is one thing; how The Other Guys approaches this, and how the two actors play it, is something else again. The film basics give us Ferrell as Allen Gamble, a none-too-bright, pencil-pushing, uptight detective who’s happy in his role, while Wahlberg is wannabe hotshot Terry Hoitz, who’s been demoted to a desk job following an embarrassing accident. The easy thing for the film would have been to simply revolve around Terry exploding at Allen’s stupidity and gullibility—and to some extent, The Other Guys certainly does go that route. But there’s also more at work here. And I’m not talking about how the two mismatched partners come to be friends; that’s a given.
No, The Other Guys takes a tip from the underlying modus operandi of Laurel and Hardy, in that the character who thinks he’s smart (Hardy/Terry) is actually dumber than the so-called dumb one (Laurel/Allen). This adds depth and an entire avenue of comedy to the film. It also makes the expected business of the pair transitioning from cop buddies to real buddies—after their more or less switching roles—seem like something more than a genre convention.
It helps that the plot is fairly solid (if unspectacular), the action scenes are executed with a degree of style and coherence, and the supporting cast is well-chosen and given parts that fit the things they do well. There’s a tendency for Will Ferrell vehicles to be tailored for him more than for anyone else; here it seems that all the roles are tailored for all the actors. Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson are all perfect in their key supporting roles. Even the often merely decorative Eva Mendes is well served here.
Does it all work? That’s hard to say, since comedy is so completely subjective. I’d say it does work, mostly, and even when it doesn’t, it stalls so briefly that you might not realize it even did stall until later. I don’t think this film is great, and I don’t think it’s any kind of potential comedy classic; I’d actually have a hard time detailing any of the individual gags in it just a few days later. So for me, The Other Guys is on the insubstantial side—though I did have a good time watching it more than I didn’t. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug-related material.