A ribald spoof of an often-spoofed genre, Adam McKay’s The Other Guys succeeds where many others have recently failed (I’m looking at you, Cop Out, and also the recent slew of action rom-coms: Knight and Day, Date Night, Killers, etc.) Will Ferrell is more restrained here than usual, but this ranks with his best.
The film stars Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as a pair of New York City supercops, the kind of bullets-dodging, buildings-jumping, millions-of-dollars-in-property-destruction-causing action heroes that exist only in the movies.
But The Other Guys isn’t about them; it’s about, well, the other guys: Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), paperwork-handling desk jockeys who stick to the precinct while the others get all the glory.
Allen is happy to stick around the office; Terry is only there because he accidentally shot Derek Jeter during the playoffs, costing the Yankees and New York another World Series. Together, they (by turns, reluctantly) tackle a surprisingly intricate plot for this kind light comedy fare, involving billionaire David Ershon (Steve Coogan), his ‘bodyguard’ (Ray Stevenson), and a shady higher-up (an unbilled Anne Heche). Credit where credit is due: more thought was put into this than we could reasonably expect, and it shows.
Ultimately, this plotline is nothing special – it’s by-the-numbers, connect-the-dots stuff that we don’t really care about, and sometimes we wish we were getting more jokes and less story – but it serves one important purpose: to balance out the comedy. We’ll be watching protracted exposition for what starts to feel like too long, and then BAM – there’s the punchline to a joke we’d already forgotten about.
One particular scene, involving Allen’s ex-girlfriend (played by Natalie Zea) had me laughing harder than I can remember in recent memory; not because the joke was particularly funny, but because the timing was so perfect I was caught completely off guard.
Wahlberg’s role is an outright parody of his tough-guy Departed/Shooter/We Own the Night persona, and he’s excellent here; a natural for comedy, one wonders why he doesn’t turn to it more often (also see: the underseen and underappreciated I Heart Huckabees.)
Ferrell underplays his role effectively, making his violent, irreverent outbursts all the more jarring (and funny). They’re always at each other’s throats, and make for a great team; almost as good as Jackson and Johnson, who steal the show in their limited screen time.
The rest of the supporting cast is also a lot of fun. As Allen and Terry’s superior, Michael Keaton has his best role in years – what happened to him? He still has a wonderful comic presence, and (hopefully) his roles in this and Toy Story 3 lead to a revitalization of his career.
Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr. (I thought he looked familiar – yes, Damon Wayans has a 28-year-old son) are appropriate foils, though Coogan has little to work with in an exposition-heavy role. Eva Mendes plays Allen’s wife; Brooke Shields, Rosie Perez, Tracy Morgan, and Derek Jeter (who could use some work with his line delivery) appear in cameos as themselves, while an uncredited Ice-T provides narration.
Director Adam McKay is well versed in Will Ferrell comedy, having made Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, along with shorts for Saturday Night Live and the website Funny or Die; it’s a good thing Ferrell has him, because there’s been a noticeable dropoff in quality among his other recent vehicles (Land of the Lost, Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory.) The Other Guys fits right in with McKay’s previous films; it’s less consistently funny, but more accomplished overall.