A film review by Craig J. Koban August 17, 2010


2010, PG-13, 108 mins.

Will Ferrell: Gamble / Mark Wahlberg: Hoitz / Eva Mendes: Sheila / Michael Keaton: Capt. Mauch / Steve Coogan: David Ershon / Ray Stevenson: Wesley

Directed by Adam McKay / Written by McKay and Chris Henchy

There is a small moment in the new action comedy THE OTHER GUYS that does a virtuoso job of underscoring the indescribably absurd comic tenacity and bizarro brilliance of Will Ferrell.   

It’s a small, but uproarious scene where Ferrell’s police accountant cop Allen Gamble has his short-tempered, hotheaded, and career minded partner, Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) over for dinner.  Allen is married to an absolute goddess of a female: she is Dr. Sheila Gamble (the incredibly easy on the eyes Eva Mendes) and when she appears in her wonderfully form fitting dress before Terry, he’s in a state of absolute stunned incredulity.  He can’t bring himself to believe that the book-wormy and meek mannered Allen could possibly have such an unattainably gorgeous wife.  When the three of them gather at the dinner table Allen goes out of his way to apologize for his wife’s “inappropriate” appearance; he describes her look – directly in front of her – to be that of a hobo. 

Did you see?  That’s the Ferrellian touch.  He can take the most rudimentary of movie scenes – like the dinner conversation – and use his improvisational wit and logic-skewed indifference to generate high hilarity with the most modest of lines.  Mendes' doctor/wife is anything but a “hobo,” but Ferrell’s character – showing a genuine lack of common sense and a clueless, man-child sense of ignorance – seems completely dense to his wife’s uber hotness.  He’s almost innocently imbecilic.  Remember in ANCHORMAN when Ferrell’s bigoted 70’s newsman called a female colleague a “pirate hooker” that belonged on “whore island”?  Remember Ferrell’s aging, washed-up basketball player in SEMI-PRO telling a capacity crowd to use their children as human shields to defend themselves against a rampaging grizzly bear because bears love “tasty, young, and tender meat”?  Remember Ferrell’s bumble-brained, red-necked racecar driver in TALLADEGA NIGHTS that stabbed a knife into his thigh to prove to his buddies that he was paralyzed…even when he wasn’t? 

That’s the Ferrellian touch.  Mix a dose of self-humiliation with a dash of capricious sprit and combine that further with a daring, go-for-broke willingness to say or do anything for a laugh and you get the idea.  Some comedians know their limits, but Ferrell is self-aware and guileless enough to know that he has no limits.  It’s his complete lack of self-censorship that often makes him a tear-inducing riot. 

THE OTHER GUYS proudly and jubilantly utilizes Ferrell’s manic energy and unhinged comic sensibilities to great effect.  The film is a very effective re-teaming of the actor with co-writer/director Adam McKay, a former SNL writer during Ferrell’s tenure there and the writer/director of two of Ferrell’s most hilarious screen comedies, ANCHORMAN and TALLADEGA NIGHTS.  Although THE OTHER GUYS does not have the same laugh-a-minute consistency of those two films and seems to run out of comedic gas with an abortively long-winded running time, this is still a rousingly boisterous and gigantically silly creation that mixes off-the-wall comic ludicrousness with the trappings of a high-octane buddy-cop action picture.  It’s a raucous and side-splittingly funny farce and a bullet and explosion happy thriller that’s done with just the right winks at the audience and the genres it’s lampooning.  It’s the very type of film that Kevin Smith’s lamentably awful COP OUT wanted to be earlier this year. 

THE OTHER GUYS opens by introducing us to the real heroes of the film up front: They are NYPD daredevil cops Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson, cutting loose with a groovy, trash-talking, and frenzied vigor) and Danson (Dwayne Johnson, showing why he is a rare commodity of muscle bound actor for being able to merge raw physicality with a goofy charm).  These dudes are bad mo-fos: In a hysterical opening sequence they single handedly cause millions of dollars of property damage to one New York street…just to bust a criminal on a miniscule drug possession charge.  Nonetheless, the media and their fellow boys in blue - and especially Ferrell’s number crunching, desk bound cop -  idolize them despite their questionable methods, . 

Of course, Allen wants nothing to do with being in the field: He would just rather be in front of his computer from 9 to 5, but his partner Terry is growing so monstrously frustrated by being cooped up in the office all day that all he can think of is getting back on the street beat.  Now, why is a fairly tough minded and rugged officer like Terry stuck at the precinct?  He became disciplined after a very nasty altercation with Derek Jeter (yes, that one) that involved a gun, a bullet entering the Major League slugger, and a nickname of “The Yankee Clipper” that haunts Terry.  However, the duos’ lives are changed forever when they begin to investigate a big-time fraud case that may or may not involve a business tycoon, David Ershon (Steve Coogan), but problems surface when it's revealed that Ershon has cozy ties with their boss, Captain Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton).  Yet, things predictably escalate to the point where it appears that these two supercop-wannabes may be the only two that will be able to bust the case wide open. 

The pairing of Ferrell and Wahlberg here seems both odd and inspired.  Ferrell can bring the funny with the best of them, whereas Wahlberg has been very funny – both intentionally and non-intentionally – in films before.  I need not embellish Ferrell’s easy penchant for high merriment, but Wahlberg makes an effective foil to Allen’s mild, white collared, and dweeby simpleton.  Wahlberg’s thankless task in the film involves him playing straight man to all of Ferrell’s unmentionable ludicrousness.  There is comedy in reactions, and watching Wahlberg drift between dopey eyed perplexity and fire and brimstone exasperation are just as funny as seeing Ferrell make a fool of himself.  Oftentimes, the expectation of seeing Terry fly off the deep end is funny enough. 

The other actors here are also very amusing.  "The Rock" and Samuel L. Jackson are riotously droll satirizing their own images as badass and dirty-mouthed action gods (they also occupy the single most macabre and funny moment in a film in recent memory that cues their early exit from the story; you’ll know when you see it).  And how utterly cool is it to see Michael Keaton launch himself back into playing a deliciously sly and wacky comic creation again?  He portrays an aging, exhausted, and somewhat ineffectual police captain that, among other things, inadvertently quotes TLC song lyrics without knowing it and spends his wee evening hours working as a manager at Bed Bath and Beyond so he can put his bisexual son through college.  Keaton has not been this unpredictable whimsical and exuberant in years.   

Of course, we also get all of the traditional accoutrements of the action genre too, like gun battles and shootouts, explosions, car chases, and expletive laced banter, but the film’s real objective is to make us laugh first and excite and thrill us a distant second.  The fast and furious laughs come as a result of a dizzying and divergent array of madcap scenes.  There is a brawl between police officers at a funeral that is all done with hushes and whispers that’s kind of brilliant as well as a running gag involving Allen’s choice of cop cars – a bright, candy colored Pyris – which, at one point, gets covered in so much cocaine that one character comments that it looks as if Scarface sneezed on it (there are also lots of chuckles regarding Allen’s use of Little River Band as adrenaline pumping music on the job).  Then there is a truly transcendentally funny moment when Allen mistakes Terry’s instructions to pull the ol’ good cop, bad cop routine on a suspect (“I thought you meant bad cop, bad cop?” Allen feebly explains after the fact).  Perhaps the most gut-busting moment comes early in the film when Terry explains that if he were a lion swimming out to sea and Allen were a tuna then he would gobble him up and kill him.  Allen systematically and logically explains why a lion would be no match for a squadron of tuna, much to Allen’s blood boiling frustration. 

THE OTHER GUYS is not a faultless comedy:  I think that Steve Coogan – a terrifically and crazily unhinged comic actor in his own right (HAMLET 2) - is underutilized here in a meager role.  The film is also way, way too long and contains an underlining premise involving a corporate scam/crime that, to be fair, never really is developed in a clear or delineated manner.  THE OTHER GUYS, especially late in the game, becomes so transfixed in its tale of white collar greed and malfeasance that it almost derails the first two-thirds of enthusiastic lunacy (by the time the story revisits its criminal subplot, I nearly forgot that it existed in the film in the first place).  No matter, because THE OTHER GUYS is still immensely goofy and happily delirious fun with Will Ferrell proudly and commandingly at the helm of all of its preposterousness.  It’s often impossible not to laugh at this guy.  Need proof?  Look at one sequence where Allen and Terry narrowly escape a mass explosion.  As they writhe around in agony on the ground Allen cries, “I definitely need an MRI!  There’s no way I don’t have soft-tissue damage right now.” 

See? That’s the Ferrellian touch.

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