Two cops — one raring to chase the bad guys and blow something up, one content to sit at a desk — try to fight their way out of the shadow of bad-ass-ier cops in The Other Guys, a strange but intriguing comedy from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
McKay, the director and co-writer here, is the writer/director behind such other successful and enjoyable Ferrell movies as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers. Ferrell is often at his best — or at least his most inventive — when McKay is involved with a project.
And, if nothing else, the “inventive” part of that equation holds true here.
P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnston) are a bigger, badder, awesomer version of the Starsky and Hutch, take-no-prisoners, all-car-chases-all-the-time, no-crime-is-too-small-for-a-big-explosion-style cops. They also don’t have a great understanding of physics, so their overheated heroism soon gets the better of them and the New York City police department is quickly in need of a new pair of heroes.
Terry Holtz (Mark Wahlberg), a cop still suffering from an early career mistake, hopes that that duo can be him and his partner, a wallflower-ish Allen Gamble (Ferrell), a former forensic accountant who would rather do paperwork than hit the streets. Holtz sees potential big-drug-bust crime everywhere; Gamble is chasing a building permit violation. Their captain (Michael Keaton) just wants them to stay out of trouble, but Holtz is determined to drag his partner into a big case. When it looks like financial bigwig David Ershon (Steve Coogan) has done more than just misfile some building paperwork, Holtz is hot to ferret out the truth, even if he and Gamble keep getting the standard cop-movie dressing down from “the brass.”
The Other Guys breaks down something like this: the first 20 minutes are laugh-out-loud great, the next 40 minutes have chuckle-worthy scenes interspersed with scenes that have you trying to use your phone to fast forward, followed by a better but not terribly memorable final third followed by credits that appear to come from a different movie. It is a weird jumble that is still worth watching but perhaps not necessarily worth running to a theater for.
As with many Ferrell-helmed comedies, you can clip any five minutes at random from The Other Guys and you are almost guaranteed a laugh. Ferrell and Wahlberg are exactly what you expect them to be — Ferrell is unshakably an overly fastidious doormat (except when he’s “reverting” to Gator, a redneck pimp persona from Gamble’s dark past), Wahlberg is a tightly coiled spring waiting to explode into some overheated Serpico-like 1970s version of cop-movie cop. (Which, actually, might be just the kind of brilliant send up of his previous attempts at being an action star that his career, in this post-The Happening era, really needs.) The not-quite-rightness of the movie comes with how these characters fit into their surroundings. In Anchorman, for example, the whole universe — Ron Burgundy, his strange cohort of fellow newscasters, the rest of San Diego — was nuts. Christina Applegate’s Veronica Corningstone was the most normal part of the story and she brought us in, slowly letting her freak flag unfurl as we acclimated to this hyper-Three’s Company version of the world. Here, we start in a New York that cheers on its unrealistically action-movie-esque cops but we never quite get what place Gamble and Holtz play in it. Are they just like everyone else? Are they nuttier? Quickly the movie gives up trying to make them different from its universe and just makes the whole universe a nutty mixture of cop movie clichés that it simultaneously seems to want us to buy into and wink at. And then the plot takes the lead — a convoluted tale that seems to want to be a populist rant about how the rich gets away with everything but also pours on the cartoony villains.
And then there are the credits, which use two- and three-color graphics and a Rage Against the Machine cover of “Maggie’s Farm” to deliver us facts about the T.A.R.P. bailout and the growing gulf between what a CEO makes and what his or her employees make. It is a fascinating bit of video and marks one of the few times when I actually voluntarily stayed until the very end of a credit sequence.
Like many of the pieces that form The Other Guys, what those credits have to do with the movie I’m still trying to work out. This isn’t just a jumble of Ferrellisms, explosions and dude-comedy wackiness but it isn’t quite more than the sum of those parts either. B-
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material. Directed by Adam McKay and written by McKay and Chris Hency, The Other Guys is an hour and 47 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.