Much like its two lead characters, The Other Guys features two very different styles that should be discordant but somehow combine into a harmonious success. Director Adam McKay has managed to take the absurd comedy he’s applied to his past films (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers) and team it with a parody of the buddy-cop flick. The result is unmistakably an Adam McKay-Will Ferrell picture, and while the chemistry between the leads could be strong and the comedy can be uneven at times (particularly in the third act), The Other Guys is an discordant success.
Action-hero detectives P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Dwayne Johnson (Christopher Danson) are the hot-shots of the NYPD. When they’re put out of commission (in one of the movie’s best scenes), it leaves a space open for a new pair of crime-fighting super-cops. Detective Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) thinks he’d have that action-hero glory by now if it weren’t for two major snags 1) he’s became one of the biggest jokes/hated-figures in the department after he accidentally shot Derek Jeter; and 2) he’s saddled with the world’s happiest desk jockey, Forensic Accountant Alan Gamble (Ferrell). However, when a suspect (Steve Coogan) in one of Gamble’s files leads to a more exciting case, Hoitz pushes his reluctant partner into adrenaline-fueled property damage, accidental destruction of evidence and (in a true sign that you’ve really made it as a buddy-cop team that play by their own rules) scolding by their captain (Michael Keaton).
Like all of McKay’s movies, The Other Guys isn’t really about the plot. The plot is simply the tree to hang as many jokes on as possible. There’s a lot of Ferrell’s “screaming/stating-the-obvious” humor that’s become that actor’s trademark, but somehow it still manages to work. In my review of last year’s Land of the Lost, I lamented the predictability of that humor, but The Other Guys shows that utilization of that delivery is essential in making Ferrell’s humor work. McKay knows how to integrate that style into of the movie rather than use it as a crutch. So when you have Ferrell screaming about the loudness of explosions, it works.
That in-the-moment observational humor works well when set inside with the movie’s buddy-cop parody. Taken on its own, the parody of The Other Guys would feel like a lesser version of Hot Fuzz as Gamble takes to the mundane rigors of police work set against the backdrop of an action movie. But when you pair this genre-parody with something as silly as a character observing how good water tastes when served with a slice of cucumber, The Other Guys feels like its own movie with its own cucumber-flavor.
Of course, the chemistry in any buddy cop movie, whether it’s comic or straight, is essential. The chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg is serviceable, but throughout the film I kept thinking, “Who’s another action star that could play Wahlberg’s role better?” It’s not that Wahlberg is bad. It simply feels like the casting was better on paper and than in the final film. Don’t get me wrong: Wahlberg’s good and delivers as an action-hero-who-wasn’t. McKay has more success melding his absurd humor with parody than Ferrell and Wahlberg do in synching their performances.
But the entire movie is a tough balancing act and The Other Guys has trouble getting the mixture to work to its full effect. Because the funny parts are so good, you’ll notice when there’s a stretch of jokes that just aren’t working. That being said, The Other Guys is almost as quotable as Anchorman and I have the feeling it will be just as rewarding repeat viewings (you’ll never hear the term “soup kitchen” the same way again). You’ll also get the feeling that there’s an unrated cut just waiting to be unleashed on DVD.
The Other Guys is a funny movie that’s either repeat viewings or a hard-R cut away from being a classic. But judged on a single viewing, I was impressed at how McKay not only managed to bring his comic style into another comic genre, but even managed to kick in a little satire for good measure (the movie features the most education closing credits of the year). Despite a fragile comic chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg and some lost energy in the third act, The Other Guys is a solid hybrid comedy that only Adam McKay and Will Ferrell could deliver.