The Other Guys

Movie review by Greg Carlson

Another kaleidoscopic, anything-goes parody/satire from goofball pals Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, “The Other Guys” is the least structured of the comic team’s collaborations, and arguably the weakest. As pencil-pushing NYC police officer Allen Gamble, Ferrell trades his finely tuned sense of outrageous indignation and bullheaded machismo for a stab at meekness, passivity, and groveling obsequiousness. Mark Wahlberg’s Terry Hoitz, a dim-bulb loose cannon, is overmatched by partner Ferrell’s antics, and it would have been nice to see a variation on Wahlberg’s sharp-tongued (and much funnier) Staff Sgt. Dignam from “The Departed” instead.

“The Other Guys” peaks early with a brilliant argument pitting lion against tuna in a logic-warping bid for metaphoric food chain dominance that would be at home on any elementary school playground. The remainder of the movie’s best lunacy follows the well-established McKay/Ferrell pattern of overgrown boys masking their insecurities with pompous displays of testosterone-fueled bids for manly respect. In one hilarious example, a whispered argument interrupts a solemn cop funeral, escalating into noiseless fisticuffs to avoid disturbing the mourners. As the film grinds on, one begins to long for more scenes like these.

The supporting cast, which includes all too brief cameo appearances by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson as a pair of high-octane super detective action heroes as well as Michael Keaton as a captain who moonlights at Bed Bath & Beyond, adheres to the absurd shenanigans typical of McKay’s features. Keaton’s character, for example, peppers his dialogue with references to TLC song titles, but denies any knowledge of the musical trio. Director McKay drops in for a fleeting moment as Dirty Mike, a derelict who organizes sex parties in Gamble’s red Prius. An underutilized Steve Coogan plays the reptilian investment banker being investigated by Gamble and Hoitz.

Predictably, “The Other Guys” hews literally to the gender specification indicated by its title, and substantial roles for women are scarce. A game Eva Mendes logs some screen time as Gamble’s incongruously gorgeous wife, but the running gag that requires Gamble to abandon his daytime deference for a loutish spray of browbeating insults and put-downs directed at his weirdly complaisant spouse is one of the movie’s most inscrutable jests. Gamble’s inexplicable appeal to beautiful women, which confounds partner Hoitz, may be amusing, but the dismissive, mild sexism is far less appealing.

Viewers who sit through the movie’s end credits will see an animated series of statistics covering everything from the history of the pyramid scheme named for Charles Ponzi to runaway CEO compensation to Wall Street bailouts and bonuses, all set to Rage Against the Machine’s venomous, propulsive cover of Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm.” Despite the inclusion of Coogan’s Bernard Madoff-esque financier as the film’s belabored central plot thread, the whole closing sequence feels like it should have been paired with a much tougher, smarter movie than “The Other Guys.” Instead, the preceding film relies too intently on delivering the automotive chaos and gunplay required of the genre being lampooned to transcend the already exploded myths of the buddy cop archetype.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 8/9/10.

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