The Other Guys
Directed by Adam McKay
Screenplay by Adam McKay and Chris Henchy
Will Ferrell as Allen Gamble
Mark Wahlberg as Terry Hoitz
Samuel L. Jackson as P.K. Highsmith
Dwayne Johnson as Christopher Danson
Steve Coogan as David Ershon
Rob Riggle as Martin
Damon Wayans Jr as Fosse
Michael Keaton as Captain Gene Mauch
Michael Delaney as Bob Littleford
Buddy cop spoof isn’t comedy gold, but thanks to endearing leads and some funny punchlines, it’s funny enough.
Original, laugh-out-loud comedy films have been in short supply the last few years. At some point, comedy became less about making real life scenarios hilarious than about dissecting other genre flicks to point out their silliness. Pastiche has become the norm, what with the Scary Movie franchise, all its imitators (why?), and “Family Guy” on TV. This week’s opener The Other Guys is a spoof on buddy cop movies. Oh, you know the ones: two hardened cops start the movie hating each other, gradually get to know each other better, work one big case together, and become both heroes and the best of friends. Summer 2010 has been almost completely devoid of laughs, and The Other Guys picks up the comedy slack, if not with its originality, then with its charming leads.
This year so far, original comedy is in short supply: Dinner for Schmucks and Death at a Funeral are remakes; Little Fockers is a sequel; Kevin Smith’s flop Cop Out is another buddy cop pastiche; Hot Tub Time Machine reworked ‘80s comedies to its advantage. The Other Guys also uses old tropes in new ways, if not to add to the hilarity, then at least to give audiences a breather from psychological drama, vampires and werewolves, and totally crude humor.
In a fictional New York City, P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson, reveling in his hard-ass persona) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson, an amiable action star who miraculously seems to have outgrown his wrestling name “The Rock”) are the iconic hero cops, the ones who save the day no matter the task. Far from being good cops, the two are better known for sleeping with Kim Kardashian, doing property damage, and dumb stunts on the city’s budget. Meanwhile, partners Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) ride desks at the precinct, pushing papers and begrudgingly hovering in the wings. When Highsmith and Danson take a long walk off a tall building in the name of their seeming invincibility (while the Foo Fighters’ “There Goes My Hero” plays in the background), somebody has to step up to take the heroes’ place.
Gamble, a mild-mannered desk jockey who transferred from forensic accounting, isn’t anxious to get in on the action. Hoitz, a hot-blooded, rage filled weirdo, wants it so badly he can taste it. After Hoitz forces Gamble at gunpoint to respond to a call, the two bumbling cops arrest investment banker David Ershon (Steve Coogan) for some kind of scaffolding mix up, little knowing the white collar criminal Ershon actually is. Of course the two then find themselves firmly entrenched in discovering Ershon’s Ponzi scheme and taking him down. They go through the typical buddy cop travails: they slowly open up to one another, discovering that Hoitz shot Derek Jeter by accident (“You shoulda shot A-Rod!” someone yells in therapy) and Gamble used to be a pimp in college (complete with grill and sweatsuit). Gamble invites Hoitz over for dinner, explaining that Gamble’s wife is “a big broad, and she likes to throw it around.” Of course, when it turns out he’s married to the impossibly gorgeous Sheila (Eva Mendes), Hoitz is stunned—how on earth could a dude who looks like Will Ferrell and acts like an accountant end up with Eva Mendes? This has been done before, and the “plain guy-hot wife” joke plays out pretty quickly despite repeated attempts to shove it in our faces. Gamble meets Hoitz’s ex-girlfriend Francine and tries to get Hoitz back together with her. Gradually, the two cops start to have fun together. Then they’re torn apart when something goes awry, but of course come back together to save the day. After Gamble and Hoitz take down the bad guys, the movie’s end credits feature a surprisingly sober and political series of animated infographics explaining Ponzi schemes and referencing the AIG, Madoff, and Lehmann Brothers scandals and bailouts.
Hoitz’s constant tantrums and his obsession with what’s masculine is played for a good joke—buddy cop movies are fun because they’re about performance of masculinity and its constraints. Gamble’s sensitivity, while slightly ridiculous, scores him hordes of beautiful women. The Other Guys is infinitely aware of its predecessors, and these are tropes we’ve all seen before. Fortunately, there are enough funny lines and familiar lampoons throughout to keep the plot moving though it’s slow at times.
Wahlberg and Ferrell have great chemistry and good comic timing, even though the punchlines are hit-or-miss. Wahlberg has managed to shrug off Marky Mark and establish himself as a pretty respectable actor, and his impossible seriousness in the face of sudden hilarity (think of Adam Samberg doing the “Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals” skit on “Saturday Night Live”) is perfect in this role. Ferrell, a niche comedian whose name alone will have teenage boys in theater seats, obviously likes to laugh at himself and the persona he’s developed, and that works here too.
The Other Guys is no laugh-a-minute stunner filled with “comedy gold,” but it’s got enough silliness and funny lines to keep it afloat, mostly thanks to its cast and a few well-placed pop culture references. Writer-director Adam McKay put together a fun movie that released in the midst of a dead summer, and though it’s probably not destined for a space on the shelf with the greats, it’ll do. Those with an affinity for buddy cop flicks and anyone who enjoys Wahlberg or Ferrell will surely love it. Edgar Wright’s affectionate buddy cop lampoon Hot Fuzz is a better watch, but The Other Guys performs in a pinch.