The Other Guys, 2010.
Directed by Adam McKay.
Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan and Michael Keaton.
Two mis-matched New York City police detectives take on an innocuous-looking case and have to step up when it begins to unravel and reveals the city’s biggest crime yet.
It felt like, for a while, that Will Ferrell was destined for an eternity of sports-based comedies. Blades of Glory, Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Kicking and Screaming and Semi-Pro formed a relentless flow of laughter, still funny, but, as the word ‘relentless’ suggests, were becoming increasingly tiresome. Stranger than Fiction provided brief relief, but it appeared only as an oasis in Ferrell’s exhausted desert of bawdy, sport narratives. How long ago Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy seemed…
However, Will Ferrell is among a group of actors (Steve Martin, Charlie Sheen, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase…) whose mere onscreen presence triggers a fit of uncontrollable giggles. They all share a certain comedic intensity, so I apologise if this review reads somewhat biased. Though it does not exempt Ferrell from rehashing the same, stagnant formulae.
Thankfully then, The Other Guys sees Ferrell abandon the sports-based narrative. The leap is not far as he simply turns to mock another genre, the buddy-cop movie. But the plot holds an additional novelty; the film focuses not upon the reckless, wisecracking, get-the-girl, save-the-town heroes of old, but the office-bound, bickering, paperwork-shackled, suited men of the background; the extras; they aren’t the hyper-machismo, they’re the other guys.
This allows the film a self-awareness of the genre it exists within. For instance, after being hurled in the air and onto the ground by an explosion, Allen Gamble (Ferrell) laments the movie characters that walk away from them so easily. It burns and his ears are ringing.
From this self-awareness spawns the film’s greatest trait and what makes Gamble and Terry Hoitz’s (Mark Wahlberg) relationship so farcical; its reflexive irony – where all are oblivious to something glaringly obvious bar one character and the audience. This is most effective in a running joke of Gamble’s absurd success with women. His wife is Eva Mendes. Gamble constantly dismisses her as “the ball and chain” while Hoitz stands there as the straight-man, mouth agape and eyes wide, uttering “seriously?” A much needed swipe at “Adam Sandler syndrome”, perhaps, where unfeasibly attractive women are cast as being attracted to average/below-average looking guys in films.
For all of Wahlberg’s straight-man heroics, which he performs with escalating exasperation, he often attempts the fool himself. Ferrell, however, tops him at every turn. There is a moment in The Other Guys’ trailer where Hoitz suggests they use ‘good cop/bad cop’ on David Ershon (Steve Coogan). After Hoitz goes in angry, threatening Ershon and hoisting him up by his shirt, Gamble, having misheard ‘good cop/bad cop’ as ‘bad cop/bad cop’, enters the interrogation even more insane, howling strange animal noises and throwing Ershon about his office. One presumes Hoitz becomes the funny-man role when he executes a complex ballet routine because he learnt it at school (maintaining the tough-guy image) to “make fun of the posh kids”. But Gamble somehow out-stupids him by shouting unnecessary encouragement from the wings. Funny cop/funny cop, indeed.
The plot itself is surprisingly rather engaging. Strange for such a film, as these are often inconsequential, 100 minute long threads only used to string together the comedy. The Other Guys, however, at least attempts an undertone of actual socio-political critique with its end credit sequence; animated infographics of various corporate swindles that preceded and aggravated the recent global banking crisis.
This has led Mark Kermode to call the film schizophrenic – not with venom, but with a sense of intrigue. Whether the contrast between slapstick comedy and a serious message works or not, it still prompts a thought or two. One wouldn’t have predicted a discussion of corporate fraud and exploitation over the post-cinema pint.
The serious, however, is hardly serious, and comes across at the end as a semi-poignant afterthought. The Other Guys true strengths are Wahlberg and Ferrell’s comedic relationship, the latter’s release from sport-comeback narratives, and cinema’s greatest, and possibly only, running TLC gag ever. And Kermode may have been onto something when he labelled the film schizophrenic. Not because of The Other Guys’ odd dynamism, but for Ferrell’s creation of an alter ego even more abnormal than Old School’s ‘Frank the Tank’; a white-trash, aggressive pimp called ‘Gator’.
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