When Adam McKay and Will Ferrell release a film, it’s pretty clear what the audience can expect. But I am always pleasantly surprised with how high their movies rise above gimmicky plot descriptions and provide something a bit more than simply what’s on the surface. Ferrell himself has become something of a joke over the past few years, alternatively starring in muck like Semi-Pro, head-scratchers like Land of the Lost, and throwing the occasional dramatic curveball in the mix with a film like Stranger Than Fiction. But it’s his work with McKay that has already come to shape comedy in this millennium, with Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and – most importantly – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy becoming instant classics in the process. Now, The Other Guys can confidently be added to that list – not as a blemish on an otherwise-impressive track record, but as another exuberant entry into their body of work.
In the wake of two New York City supercops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson), Detectives Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) are “the other guys”: desk cops who do all of the paperwork while the supercops take all the fame and glory. Gamble is content with his position, but Hoitz – a former up-and-comer who can’t live down a certain traumatic event in his past – yearns for the opportunity to take to the streets and be a “real” police officer. When the deskcop duo take matters into their own hands, things begin to heat up very quickly.
Like Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz before it, The Other Guys examines the psyche of a few regular guys in a profession constantly romanticized by the media. (How many police procedurals are on television these days?) The film comments on that idolization directly through the performances of Jackson and Johnson, who embrace their power-hungry nature while dodging questions about causing twelve million dollars in city property damage to nab a bad guy committing a crime considered a misdemeanor in some states. What if Lethal Weapon‘s Riggs and Murtaugh let their status go to their heads?, the movie asks.
I don’t have many problems with this movie, but I’ll raise my issues with it now. The inconsistency of the world slightly bothered me. Early on, the insane action moves of Jackson and Johnson seem to set us in a world where anything can happen, where cars always land right-side-up and where the good guys can never get hurt. Within the first few minutes of the film, that notion is shattered (in comedic fashion, of course), and the world seems to revert to a “real” place, where gravity exists in its proper form and everything functions as it should.
I would have been fine if this shift in tone was the only one to occur in the movie, but McKay and co-writer Chris Henchy decided to add another shift near the end of the film, in which slow motion gun battles look really cool but the reality they spent the entire movie crafting is destroyed. There’s even a sequence (seen in the trailers) in which Ferrell and Wahlberg react “realistically” to an exploding building, calling out action filmmakers everywhere for the whole “Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions” trend. But I can’t take these criticisms seriously when the film itself breaks its own rules so blatantly. Hot Fuzz avoids this problem and has a much more fun conclusion because it doesn’t spend so much time establishing their world as a “real” place, so we can enjoy watching things get exponentially more ridiculous as that film progresses. With The Other Guys, the conclusion didn’t play as well for me because it just didn’t make sense with what had come before.
That I haven’t yet mentioned how funny the film is should be a testament to its quality. Comedy, as we all know, is extremely subjective. I can’t possibly tell you if you’re going to think this movie is funny (I won’t pretend to be able to read your mind), but I can tell you that I thought it was incredibly comical. The first two thirds of this film had me cracking up – a highlight includes a speech regarding a lion in the ocean – even if the humor in the final act suffered a bit in favor of wrapping up plot points. Wahlberg and Ferrell have a natural chemistry that is hard to capture on the big screen, but just as I picture the Channel 4 News Team from Anchorman working together for years before the events of that film, I can easily see Allen and Terry before we catch up to them when The Other Guys begins. The laughs are consistent throughout the film, a refreshing change from Get Him To The Greek and Hot Tub Time Machine (the other two mainstream comedies I’ve seen this year), and are enough for me to say The Other Guys is easily the funniest movie I’ve seen this year.
I’ve already hinted that this film works on multiple levels, and there is far more going on here than can be gleaned from the premise alone. One particular aspect I’d like to bring up is the relationship between Ferrell’s Allen Gamble and his wife Sheila, played by Eva Mendes (who was effective and humorous). Allen constantly downplays Sheila’s beauty, and at some points gets downright mean, talking about how bad she looks as they sit around the dinner table with Wahlberg’s Terry Hoitz. These scenes are played for comedy and are actually very funny (because, obviously, Eva Mendes is gorgeous), but a lesser movie would have left it at that and moved on. The Other Guys once again elevates above similar movies in the genre because it actually addresses this aspect head on: late in the film, Allen apologizes to Sheila for his behavior and admits that he talks down to her because he’s afraid if he acknowledges her beauty, she’d leave him. This glimmer of seriousness gives us a glimpse into some actual truth – I’m sure this type of relationship (and the reasoning behind it) is happening on a daily basis in the real world. By directly engaging this part of the film instead of breezing over it, the film earned more respect from me and provides us with something more to chew on than simply the comedy it provides.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the performances of the other supporting actors. Michael Keaton, an underrated and highly underused actor, was highly entertaining as the TLC-quoting police captain. Steve Coogan (who appeared very briefly in Hot Fuzz, actually) was adequate as the villain, but didn’t break any new ground. Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Ray Stevenson, Andy Buckley, Rob Huebel, and personal UCB favorite Ben Schwartz all appeared briefly and added to the impressive supporting cast. Even director Adam McKay made a cameo appearance as Dirty Mike, a character you won’t soon forget if you’ve seen the film.
The Other Guys is a great comedy, and easily one of Will Ferrell’s best films in the past five years. The comedy and drama work well, and there’s enough story to separate the film from its gimmicky Ferrell contemporaries. The movie is also a pretty fantastic addition to the buddy cop genre, touching on the standard conventions but never delving into eye-rolling territory by consenting to them. If you’re looking for laughs, I think this is the best 2010 has to offer. Until next time…