There's a trend with movies in which more than one studio will produce two very similar films in the same year and release them to have at it in the marketplace. In 1997, Hollywood released two competing volcano movies. In 1998, there were two giant asteroid films. In 2005, it was a pair of Truman Capote biopics. And, in 2010, we finally get competing buddy cop spoofs: Kevin Smith's Cop Out and The Other Guys, the fourth collaboration between Will Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay. But whereas Cop Out was happy to simply pay tribute to '80s cop movies (it was unambitious and rather lazy that way), The Other Guys is its own animal -- a film that functions as genre send-up as well as a fully-formed (well, almost) comedy with a number of larger issues on its mind. It's not Ferrell and McKay's best, but it is another interesting and funny exploration on their favorite themes.
Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play detectives Gamble and Hoitz, competent policemen who stay out of the spotlight and focus on paperwork and reports. For Gamble, that's just what he wants -- he's happy to stay behind a desk and push papers. Hoitz, however, is filled with frustrated rage and wants nothing more than to fly like a peacock (he's been reassigned after a mishap involving one of the New York Yankees). When the departments two star cops (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson as funny send-ups of movie cops) are put out of commission, Gamble and Hoitz find themselves stumbling on a case involving a shady businessman (Steve Coogan) looking to defraud millions of dollars from an unknown agency.
A Comedy About Masculinity
All of McKay's collaborations with Ferrell have worked as dissections of masculinity -- they are, at heart, all about what it means to "be a man" within the context of the film's world: 1970s San Diego in the face of feminisim in Anchorman, contemporary masculinity in the NASCAR-dominated south in Talladega Nights, man-children in a state of arrested development in Step Brothers). The Other Guys continues that trend by turning Ferrell's usual know-it-all blowhard character inward; his Gamble is all introverted, analytical control freak (exactly why he's so insistent in remaining in control is slowly revealed over the course of the movie in one of many underdeveloped running gags) placed inside a hyper-masculine world. It's a good change of pace for Ferrell, who gets to show another side of himself and demonstrate new ways to be funny for audiences who may have grown tired of his overly-confident fool shtick. As a performer, Ferrell is always in complete control, and in The Other Guys it's actually Mark Wahlberg who dictates the energy of the film. Sometimes, it really works -- his soft-spoken sincerity is very funny, particularly in the scenes opposite Eva Mendes (playing Ferrell's impossibly hot wife). Other times, like when he's in a constant state of furious explosion, it doesn't. You feel him sweating for laughs, and it's all the more noticeable because he's surrounded by a cast of comedians (including Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Rob Heubel and more) who know just how to let the laughs come to them. Though the pairing is a bit uneven at times, it ultimately works.
Like a lot of improvisation-heavy comedies that have come out in the last five or six years (a trend, it could be argued, that began with McKay's own Anchorman), The Other Guys feels chopped up and patchy. You can feel where scenes are gutted (a late-film "love scene" with Ferrell and Mendes has no place in the existing cut) and where certain plot and character threads have been dropped somewhat. I'm all in favor of the style of comedy McKay and Ferrell create, but it doesn't always make for the strongest films. There's always a sense now that filmmakers are making their movies with the unrated, uncut DVD in mind and, as such, the version that hits theaters tends to suffer. Of course, the versions that hit DVD are running 2 1/2 hours, and that's not much better.
At the same time, it's the density of the humor that makes The Other Guys work. McKay's films tend to require multiple viewings to fully appreciate them (I say this as someone who originally wasn't crazy about Step Brothers but has really warmed up to it), and I suspect that's the case here. Though the movie is very much of its time (there's more about the current economic crisis than you might expect, though to what end I'm not entirely sure), it's one that will improve upon future viewings, where you can really pick up one everything that's going on within the frames. Often times, the stuff in the foreground isn't all that funny, but McKay has created a world that's literally bursting with jokes; sometimes, you have to pay attention to the fringes and the throwaway gags (like Wahlberg's giant drink in a Vegas background, or the phrase "Soup Kitchen," one of the funniest lines of any movie in 2010). That kind of attention to detail is what makes McKay's films special. It may not be saying much, as 2010 has been a particularly bad year for comedy, but The Other Guys is one of the funniest films of the year.
- The Other Guys is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material
- Running Time: 107 minutes
- Release Date: 8/6/10
- Studio: Sony Pictures