THE OTHER GUYS
I'm not going to pretend that I understood the crime plot in director Adam McKay's The Other Guys, which concerns Wall Street chicanery, bureaucratic red tape, a pension-fund swindle, and a suicide or a murder, though I'm hesitant to state exactly which. Seriously, when did goofy-ass Will Ferrell comedies get so complicated?
But I'm also not going to pretend that I didn't love nearly every minute of this rambunctious, deeply silly, unexpectedly smart entertainment - the sort of giddy good time that you leave wondering which of the film's scenes will merit the most repeat viewings when you eventually buy it on DVD. Madly inventive and endlessly quotable, The Other Guys is, I think, Will Ferrell's most wholly satisfying slapstick since 2007's Blades of Glory, and what's particularly surprising is that for all of the caricature-artist skill he displays here, Ferrell is still only the second-funniest thing about it.
In the case of The Other Guys, though, runner-up status is still awfully damned funny. McKay's movie finds Ferrell cast as Allen Gamble, a hopelessly mild-mannered pencil-pusher for the NYPD, and with Gamble humming through his workday and grooving to the Little River Band in his little red Prius - all the while sporting a sweetly clueless, beatific smile - he's as recognizable a comedic archetype as Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby. (McKay also directed Anchorman and Talladega Nights, as well as the Ferrell/John C. Reilly sibling farce Step Brothers.) For long stretches here, and for a change, Ferrell is passive without the aggressive, and the actor gives a highly disciplined, highly amusing portrayal of a contented, unapologetic nebbish.
Yet Gamble's latent hostility, as it must, eventually reveals itself - first subtly, with his off-handed castigation of the devoted, criminally sexy doctor who married him (a sensational Eva Mendes), and later grandly, when the reason for Gamble's pathological timidity is finally explained. (Suffice it to say it involves a theoretically innocent collegiate business plan and a smack-addicted alter-ego named Gator.) And that's when it dawns on you that what seemed an admirable, engaging sketch-comedy performance is, in truth, a far more complex and hysterical one. Ferrell is playing a man continually fighting - and occasionally losing the battle with - his type-A urges, and the star's inspired Jekyll & Hyde routine winds up lending the movie witty, unpredictable subtext.
As great as Ferrell is in The Other Guys, though, I roared even harder at Mark Wahlberg, who plays Gamble's short-tempered partner Terry Hoitz, and who suggests a less profane, more thick-headed version of the actor's Staff Sergeant Dignam in The Departed. Which is to say, Wahlberg is just about perfect. Flabbergasted by Gamble's wimpiness and irritating tics, and spitting out insults with almost brutal force, Wahlberg is an extraordinarily nimble and confident funnyman here, and his slow-burning deadpan is like a gift from the comedy gods; you're forever aware of the intense effort it's taking Hoitz to not punch his partner in the face. Ferrell has the showier role, but the belly laughs that Wahlberg elicits tend to sneak up on you, whether Hoitz is pulling off a startlingly impressive series of ballet moves, or hitting on Gamble's wife, or vociferously insisting that the Federal Reserve is a prison. He and Ferrell make a glorious buddy-comedy pairing in The Other Guys, and McKay directs their needling badinage and (of course) gradual acceptance-slash-friendship with spiky comic grace.
Not that there's much that McKay doesn't do well here. Working from a script he co-wrote with Chris Henchy, McKay is clearly alert to both The Other Guys' subtle and really-not-subtle comic possibilities beginning with its first scene, in which a pair of hotshot detectives (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, having a ball) "accidentally" lay waste to downtown Manhattan. With its generic-action-flick excesses, this bit of Hollywood satire is pretty priceless - following a crash, Jackson quips, "Did someone call 9-1-Holy-Shit?!" - but its most hysterical moments are actually handed to the sequence's extras, with a reporter ashamedly admitting that he's "from the New York Post... Online...", and a hot-dog vendor offering the heroic cops free dogs for life, "but no drinks." (The crowd boos the guy for his stinginess.) Nearly all of The Other Guys offers this sequence's mixture of raucous hilarity and throwaway cleverness, and it features comic scenes that I can't believe I've never seen before, from the drunken tableaux of Gamble's and Hoitz's wild night out to the detectives' walking-on-eggshells brawl at a funeral parlor. (Everyone involved, from the fighters to the spectators, is careful to whisper.)
You can feel the movie start to lose its grip in its final third, during a too-earnest spat between Ferrell and Mendes, and the film's parody of cop-movie conventions begins to actually succumb to them as the climax approaches. Yet even then, McKay and his team keep coming through with marvelous asides: Mendes' grandmother (Viola Harris) acting as a go-between for the momentarily separated spouses, embarrassed by the dirty talk they're making her recite; Michael Keaton's TLC-quoting police captain echoing Michael Conrad's Hill Street Blues directive "Let's be careful out there!"... to his subordinates at his side job with Bed, Bath, & Beyond. The Other Guys is a blast. You enter the film hoping it'll be at least half as enjoyable as its trailers; you leave realizing the trailers didn't come close to doing it justice.