Saturday, August 7, 2010

Movie Review: "The Other Guys"

Few comedy duos have been as consistently successful as Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

The actor-director team has spent the better part of a decade tweaking the American male psyche in all its lust ("Anchorman"), swagger ("Talladega Nights") and juvenilia ("Step Brothers"). Ferrell has created a classic collection of blowhard idiots, lampooning male hubris and idiocy, and McKay, a writer-director pal from his "Saturday Night Live" days, has always been his best collaborative partner, finding new levels of absurdity to explore.

With the duo turning their eyes to the action-comedy genre for the new release "The Other Guys," it would seem a given that they would tweak the over-the-top, testosterone-fueled macho male hero. Perhaps sensing our expectations, McKay sends Ferrell the other way, encouraging him to be as fussy, cautious and nerdy as possible as NYC forensic accountant Allen Gamble.

Not that they totally resist the urge to poke fun at buddy cop conventions. The film opens with Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson playing two NYC super-cops who appear to have been flown in from a bad Jerry Bruckheimer movie, unafraid to destroy millions of dollars in property if they can catch their crooks. Allen and his partner Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), who would much rather be the one crashing cars and shooting guns, are "The Other Guys" - police officers assigned to write up all the paperwork for the real cops.

Chasing a tip on a paperwork violation, Allen and Terry stumble upon a financial crime of unexpected proportions. When the city's best cops are taken out of commission, they step up to solve the crime and save the day, much to the chagrin of their captain (Michael Keaton), who can't be expected to clean up their mess and balance his part-time job as a Bed, Bath and Beyond store manager.

Unlike this year's wretched "Cop Out," "The Other Guys" isn't that interested in slavishly paying homage to cop movie conventions. While there may be a plot to follow and bad guys to find, McKay is more interested in using the genre as a framework for his cadre of bizarre characters to bounce around in.

Allen lacks the over-the-top nature of Ferrell's most famous characters, but he may also be the actor's most fully-formed creation. Allen likes the cautious nature of his job and enjoys filing paperwork. He's prone to outbursts of enthusiasm, such as telling his coworkers to "have a great day" every morning at 9:15 and buying random gifts for Terry. It doesn't bother him that he has to carry a wooden gun, and he's wise enough to call for an MRI after an explosion knocks him on his back. It's refreshing to see Ferrell play a character so normal on the surface, which makes it funnier when each random tic and non sequitur fly out of his mouth, especially when he bemoans his "plain" wife, played by the ravishing Eva Mendes, or ventures to remember his dark collegiate past. Allen isn't as instantly memorable as Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby, but Ferrell fills him with enough character and quirk to make it one of his best-realized roles.

McKay's gift as a director is to fill his movies with a cast of great supporting actors, and then step back and let them play. Wahlberg's intensity is used to great comedic effect here, and the actor elicits some big laughs as we learn more about Terry's life away from the force and his haunted past as the Yankee Clipper (he shot Derek Jeter). Comedians Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans, as two competing cops, bring wit to roles that could have been easily forgettable, and Jackson and Johnson perfectly parody their own macho personas. Keaton, just weeks after stealing "Toy Story 3" as Ken, reminds us once again how much we've missed his presence on screen, eschewing the tendency to play the loud-mouthed captain and, instead, portraying a mild-mannered father figure with a proclivity for quoting the music group TLC.

McKay has a wonderful knack for bringing absurdity to the big screen, both in big comedic moments (Terry and Allen's first car chase) and small expository scenes (the explanation of events that took place in Allen's stolen Prius will make you never hear the words "soup kitchen" the same way again). He's a nimble comedic mind, able to let his actors improvise to great effect and also able to deliver a great sight gag. One visual joke, featuring Jackson and Johnson's characters, made me laugh long into the next scenes.

If "The Other Guys" feels like it meanders in some spots, it's only because the action-comedy conventions require it to pause for plot updates, although the movie rarely stops delivering big laughs throughout its nearly two-hour run time. For the most part, every joke lands squarely, and the film moves forward with energy and confidence."The Other Guys" isn't really much more than a clever buddy comedy, but it never pretends to be anything more than that. The key criterion to its success is that it be funny. And while Ferrell and McKay have been at this game for quite a while, I'm pleasantly surprised to find that they haven't grown old, and that "The Other Guys" can stand proudly and idiotically beside "Anchorman," "Step Brothers" and "Talladega Nights" as a testament to one of cinema's great current comedic collaborations.

Originally published in the 8/8 edition of The Source.

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30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.