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Reviewed by Tim Grierson

A likeable romp through cop-movie conventions, “The Other Guys” is sporadically funny though star Will Ferrell and his frequent collaborator-director Adam McKay haven’t fully capitalized on a fertile comedic conceit.
 
The story of two paper-pushing New York City cops, played by Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, who find themselves suddenly engaged in the elaborate gun fights and high-level intrigue they usually only see in the movies, “The Other Guys” benefits from its leads’ odd-couple pairing, but a sense of autopilot hovers over the proceedings, keeping the movie from being consistently hilarious.
 
Disgraced police detective Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) has been demoted to a desk job after accidentally shooting revered New York Yankee superstar Derek Jeter. Even worse than his embarrassment, though, is the fact that he’s saddled with Allen Gamble (Ferrell), a forensic accountant, as his partner. Terry longs for the gritty excitement of busting bad guys, but Allen is more than content to sit at his computer and complete the bureaucratic paperwork necessitated by the heroic (and over-the-top) antics of the force’s beloved crime-fighting duo, Highsmith and Danson (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson). Terry thinks Allen is a wimp and not a real cop, and he wastes no opportunity to berate his easygoing, nerdish partner.
 
But these mismatched partners’ lives are about to receive an unexpected adrenaline boost. Pursuing a lead involving improperly filed scaffolding permits, Allen arrests haughty investment guru David Ershon (Steve Coogan). But when mysterious men subdue Allen and Terry and make off with a frightened Ershon, the two cops start to wonder if something more sinister is afoot. Their incompetent captain (Michael Keaton) blocks their investigation, but Allen and Terry bond over their shared belief that they have to get to the bottom of whatever’s happened to Ershon.
 
Much like “Hot Fuzz,” the 2007 Edgar Wright action-comedy that satirized Jerry Bruckheimer-style buddy-cop films, “The Other Guys” aims to mock conventions by juxtaposing the exaggerated testosterone-fueled exploits of cop-movie characters with their mundane real-life counterparts.
 
This strategy is not entirely new ground for McKay and Ferrell, who previously teamed up on “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” a send-up of sports-movie clichés. And like “Talladega Nights,” “The Other Guys” wants to spoof its influences while at the same time producing a movie that could fit comfortably in the genre it’s skewering.
 
While McKay and Ferrell have worked together three times before – beyond “Talladega Nights,” they also collaborated on “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers” – “The Other Guys” represents some noteworthy variations on their comedic formula. For instance, this is the first time they didn’t write the script together. (McKay instead co-wrote “The Other Guys” with “Land of the Lost” scribe Chris Henchy.)
 
Whether coincidence or not, “The Other Guys” is noticeably less improv-heavy than the duo’s earlier films, which gives the movie a tighter feel than their ramshackle earlier efforts. In addition, Ferrell’s Allen character lacks the trademark buffoonish arrogance that has marked his portrayals in previous McKay films. Instead, Allen is a meek, proudly benign creature, although in one of the movie’s funnier running bits it’s established that he has some inexplicable power to attract the city’s most drop-dead gorgeous women to his side. 
 
So while these tweaks to the McKay-Ferrell blueprint lend the film some sparkle, “The Other Guys” perpetuates their silly, guy-centric brand of comedy, complete with nods to arcane aspects of forgotten pop culture and a penchant for some irreverent locker-room trash-talking. As always with their movies, the occasional moments of meanness in “The Other Guys” take a back seat to a sweet, generous spirit that suggests filmmakers who really love their characters, no matter how hapless they are.
 
Though it’s refreshing to see Ferrell dial back his onscreen blowhard persona for once, Wahlberg’s character hasn’t been given the same amount of thought as Ferrell’s has. While neither character would be described as being particularly layered or complex, Allen at least is a neutered twist on the hero cops that usually populate action movies. By comparison, Terry is merely a shrill tweak on the tortured cop who is haunted by a tragic past. Wahlberg has shown a comedic side in “Date Night” and “I Heart Huckabees,” but his “Other Guys” role feels too one-note for him to really let loose. Wahlberg's streetwise urgency nicely plays off Ferrell’s polite timidity, but still, it’s a pity to consider what might have been.
 
Trying to mock buddy-cop films, McKay clearly has a ball recreating the slow-motion absurdity of wild shoot-out scenes, and he demonstrates a certain flair for chase scenes as well. But the genre’s storytelling conventions aren’t scrutinized nearly enough. For example, Keaton’s performance as the predictably hardheaded chief falls flat because there’s been no effort to reinvent such a stock cop-movie type.
 
Along the same lines, the twist on the typical gritty-cop love interests–in particular, Eva Mendes as Allen’s unexpectedly hot wife–doesn’t have much comic pizzazz beyond the setups. Rather than playing around with narrative tropes, “The Other Guys” lets most of its jokes revolve around Allen and Terry’s uneasy partnership. Consequently, the picture is merely an amusing but shallow spoof that focuses on the buddy-cops at the expense of the milieu they inhabit. 
 
Cast

Will Ferrell (Allen Gamble)
Mark Wahlberg (Terry Hoitz)
Eva Mendes (Sheila Gamble)
Michael Keaton (Gene Mauch)
Steve Coogan (David Ershon)
Ray Stevenson (Roger Wesley)
Samuel L. Jackson (P.K. Highsmith)
Dwayne Johnson (Christopher Danson)
 
Credits
 
Columbia Pictures presents a Gary Sanchez/Mosaic production of a film by Adam McKay
Producers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Jimmy Miller, Patrick Crowley
Executive Producers: David Householter, Chris Henchy, Kevin Messick
Director: Adam McKay
Screenplay: Adam McKay, Chris Henchy
Cinematography: Oliver Wood
Editor: Brent White
Music: Jon Brion
Production designer: Clayton Hartley
 
Running time: 107 Minutes.