August 04, 2010

Other Guys, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Other Guys, The

ACTION/COMEDY:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-08-06

Running Length:

1:47

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Ray Stevenson

Director:

Adam McKay

Screenplay:

Adam McKay & Chris Henchy

Cinematography:

Oliver Wood

Music:

Jon Brion

U.S. Distributor:

Columbia Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Will Ferrell's recent resume isn't anything to get excited about: Land of the Lost, Step Brothers, Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory. There's a sameness to all of them, not only in that the Ferrell characters are difficult to differentiate from one another, but that the comedy is tired and tepid. Fortunately, The Other Guys has a better grip on what's funny, exhibits solid comedic timing, and is generally more entertaining than tedious. Director Adam McKay has a stronger sense than some directors about how to best employ Ferrell's likeability and cluelessness (his two most disarming on-screen characteristics). McKay started with Ferrell on Saturday Night Live and followed him to the big screen, directing one of the actor's most consistently amusing feature endeavors, Anchorman. (Although, to be fair, he was also responsible for Step Brothers.)

The underlying conceit of The Other Guys is pregnant with potential: follow the misadventures of a couple of peons who exist in the shadow of big-time action heroes. It's like a Batman movie that tracks one of Commissioner Gordon's underlings. Also, the filmmakers don't overplay their hand. Once they have milked the idea for maximum comedic value, they switch up things. As with many action-comedies, this one expends a little too much running time on narrative and the comedic momentum flags during the final half hour as the more traditional action elements heat up en route to a finale. Still, The Other Guys is funnier and more energetic than anything Ferrell has produced in quite some time.

The big heroes are NYPD media hogs and daredevils Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne Johnson). Take the biggest action heroes from any cop movie, up the machismo and intensity tenfold (as appropriate for a parody), and you get these two, who preen like peacocks and think nothing of doing millions of dollars of damage to complete a minor drug bust. Unfortunately, they're not too bright and they think of themselves as invulnerable. When an incident corrects that misconception, someone has to step into the breach. The least likely candidates for the job are police accountant Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and his partner, Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg). Allen has no desire to go into the field but Terry, who has anger management issues, can't wait to get back. He has been deskbound since earning his nickname "The Yankee Clipper" after accidentally winging Derek Jeter before a game of the World Series. Allen and Terry immediately become embroiled in a big-time fraud case but the object of their investigation, David Ershon (Steve Coogan), is so well-connected that their captain, ex-baseball manager Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton), tries to reel them in. Meanwhile, in true buddy film fashion, the mismatched partners begin to bond, although Terry cannot believe a square like Allen is married to a gorgeous woman like Dr. Sheila Gamble (Eva Mendes).

The film's first 15 minutes are by far the most fun (and could be the best quarter-hour of any movie released this year), with Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock letting it all hang out. Jackson screams and shouts one-liners the way he hasn't done since all those fuckin' snakes got on the fuckin' plane. Is there anyone better at knowing self-parody than this man? The Rock, meanwhile, channels Arnold Schwarzenegger from Last Action Hero. Once these two are out of the picture, it becomes a lower-key, straightforward action-comedy, but McKay and Ferrell are smart enough to keep the set pieces fresh and diverse. Some, like Terry's befuddlement with Sharon's hotness, are effective, while others, like Sharon's mother playing the go-between, are less likely to provoke laughter. Comedic timing, as in the "Jersey Boys" snippet or the instance when a man tries to fly, is paramount. For the most part, the jokes have punch lines, which is too rarely the case in big-budget comedies.

The Ferrell/Wahlberg matching is not among the screen's most inspired pairings. The two lack chemistry, and Wahlberg's capabilities as the "straight man" are dubious (although his reaction to the choice of the Little River Band as "psych music" is priceless). Aside from his recent supporting role in Date Night, Wahlberg hasn't done much comedy, concentrating his performances in the thriller and/or drama arena, and the lack of experience occasionally shows in The Other Guys. Nevertheless, the responsibility for being funny rests on the shoulders of Ferrell and, for the first time in several years, he is up to the task (with more than a little help from Jackson and Johnson).

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