Friday, August 13, 2010

The Other Guys (***)

Directed by Adam McKay


I know the films of Adam McKay are meant to be sophomoric and silly, but I sometimes wonder if he realizes how unfunny his films really are. I don't think I'm saying anything controversial when I say that his success is directly connected to his perennial star and super-funnyman Will Ferrell. I know that I can make distinctions between how funny Ferrell is in McKay's films, such as Anchorman or Talladega Nights, and how funny those actual movies are. I'm not so sure that McKay can, which has lead to him recycle a pretty hackneyed filmmaking formula, that is both inane and lazy, with his latest film The Other Guys. But alas, this film also has Ferrell, so there are more than a few redeemable moments that make the price of admission worth it.

In New York City, the faces of the NYPD are the flashy rock star detectives P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson). They're the kind of officers that commit over $12 million in property damage just to find a group of people who possess a quarter-ounce of marijuana--a minor misdemeanor. Their irresponsibility and downright dangerous tactics in trying to catch everyday criminals has gained them more of their fair share of fame and notoriety. For all intensive purposes, they are 'Thy Guys' of the NYPD, but McKay's film is about the other guys.

Those other guys include Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg). Allen is a highly-neurotic former accountant, who much prefers to do Highsmith and Danson's undone paperwork then ever getting in his car and performing any dangerous police work. Terry is Allen's partner and can't stand sitting around while Allen types on his computer and hums the theme song to 'S.W.A.T.'. Terry was stuck being attached to Allen after he shot Derek Jeter before Game 7 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. There are few worse things you can do in New York, and now Terry has become a pariah throughout the force and the city.

When Allen uncovers a pretty seedy operation involving a reckless, English investor named David Ershon (Steve Coogan), Terry convinces him to leave the office and start making some actual arrests. Unfortunately, Allen's lack of experience in the field leads to several missteps and him getting his gun taken away by the station's Captain Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton). Despite it all though, Terry and Allen continue to go out into dangerous territory, if only to prove that they are real police officers and not just pencil pushers. Allen's darker side appears slowly, particularly when he reveals to Terry his history as a college pimp named Gator. Together, they work to bring down the secret coup that Ershon is planning.

As the clumsy, impressionable Allen, Ferrell is probably doing his best work since he was Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights. After Semi-Pro and Land of the Lost, it seemed like Ferrell had been losing a little bit of his shine--particularly at the box office. With The Other Guys, he seems to have returned to the more basic factors that made him the biggest comedic actor of the last decade. Listen to him explain how a school of tuna could win a war against a group of lions, and you'll realize why he was one of the most successful movie funnymen of all time. He's dismissed the overblown narcissism that had overtaken his act after Anchorman, and returned to the lovable doofusness that ran through most of his characters on Saturday Night Live (despite his success in films, Ferrell has never been able to match the comedic success of his days on SNL. Here's the proof.)

The film does have some great supporting turns from the likes of Keaton as the station captain who works a night shift at Bed, Bath & Beyond (with this film and Toy Story 3 just a few months ago, am I smelling a Keaton comeback?) and Eva Mendes as Allen's other-league, super supportive wife Sheila. The same can't be said for Wahlberg, who seems to be left on his own to blabber and complain, while everyone else is given the funny lines. McKay is pretty good at putting Ferrell in areas where he can succeed, but the same cannot be said for any co-leads that Ferrell has happened to have (just ask John C. Reilly after the explosion of mediocrity that was Step Brothers).

I guess the reason that I dislike McKay comedies so much is that he so often goes for the easy laughs, as opposed to crafting anything clever (though, I must say that the way he handles the fates of Highsmith and Danson is pretty hysterical). When you look at contemporary comedy masters, such as Kevin Smith or Judd Apatow, they're able to create true human elements in their screenplays, but more importantly, they believe in the talents of the people they're working with, and that leads to a comedy that is organic and flows smoothly without any need for sight gags or gratuitous gross-out jokes. McKay believes in Ferrell obviously, but I'm not sure how he feels about any of the other actors in his films. But I guess when you can shell out routinely okay films like The Other Guys, you should just stick to what signs the checks.

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