Review: The Other Guys

the other guys one sheetI take notes as I watch films so that I can remember salient plot points, great effects, and idiotic story twists. During The Other Guys, I wrote down “buddy cop film from hell”.  That might well sum up the weird mashup that is The Other Guys, a movie that can’t decide if it’s a straight-up action film, a satire that skewers the well-worn buddy cop genre, or a daft, sophomoric comedy in the vein of Police Academy.

NYPD supercops Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson, who has become a parody of himself) and Danson (the ever-likable Dwayne Johnson) overshadow everyone else in their precinct with their ludicrously over-the-top heroics in the line of duty. $12 million in damage to capture criminals with a quarter-pound of marijuana? All in a day’s work.
Meanwhile, Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) is a hotshot detective demoted to desk work for a heinous gaffe that I won’t spoil, partnered with the annoying and cowardly Gamble (Will Ferrell). The Other Guys is rife with cinematic cliches, including another pair of cops that constantly tease them and a precinct captain (Michael Keaton at his comedic best) who moonlights at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Here’s the thing: As much as I groaned at scenes and dialog, I also laughed again and again as classic film tropes were parodied (with surprisingly good production values) and one-liners were trotted out as fast as they could be spoken. Did it stink or is it worth seeing? That might well depend on your familiarity with the genre — especially Pulp Fiction, a clear inspiration — and ability to handle the oft-crass comic touch of co-star Will Ferrell. The Other Guys is a film destined for cable TV, but if you’re looking for a good, simple laugh, this might well be your ticket for a weekend no-brainer.

As is typical with parodies, there are a number of running jokes in the film, including Hoitz constantly demanding more time away from the desk, more real police work. As he insists again and again, “I’m a peacock! I need a chance to fly!”  Finally Captain Mauch (Keaton) yells “You do know that peacocks don’t fly, right?”

The Other Guys is the product of more than one writer and some of the scenes feel more suited for an episode of Saturday Night Live than a film. Notable in that regard is the first argument between Hoitz and Gamble, where Hoitz threatens that he’s a lion that’s going to swim out to Gamble’s “tuna” and eat him, to which Gamble responds by shattering the entire conceptual image in a scene that goes on far too long. It should have been an outtake.
the other guys publicity still

Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) and Gamble (Ferrell) are The Other Guys

Gamble is a forensic accountant, boring and colorless, but married to the gorgeous Dr. Sheila Gamble (Eva Mendes) who he constantly refers to as his plain old lady. Hoitz is baffled by this and thinks she’s totally hot. Later we find out that Gamble has a backstory and had a very different personality when he was in college. The flashback sequence and introduction of his alter ego Gator is funny even if it’s totally predictable.
I liked the therapy group “Counseling for Cops who Have Fired Their Gun in the Line of Duty” and the dry interchange between the tough-guy cops and therapist Zoe Lister Jones (as herself). The tension between the force needed for effective law enforcement and the peaceful expectations of the community is a path that could be ripe for a more thoughtful satire, but director Adam McKay was clearly not interested in traveling down that road.
There are a lot of cultural and cinematic references in the film too, notably a funny bit about learning to drive aggressively through playing the video game Grand Theft Auto. I’ve long suspected that it was a training ground for stunt drivers…
All too many comedies seem to now be a series of sporadically funny comic situations loosely tied together rather than a genuinely amusing storyline. Perhaps that’s the nature of comic films, but in a film like The Other Guys, where it bounces from sophomoric parody to expensive, well-staged action film and back within the course of a minute or two, the story is ultimately discarded in favor of the laughs. If that works for you, then this could be a pretty entertaining movie.

2 comments on “Review: The Other Guys

  1. This one lost me at the mid-way point. The problem with many screen comedies is that they can’t keep bringing the laughs through the whole film. The final half hour here was virtually laugh free for me. Plus, many of the comic concepts fell flat (the ballet scene, the old girlfriend scene).

    Wahlberg can do comedy, but here, he’s too busy screeching to work the humor.

  2. Heh, I’ve already scolded myself for liking this film more than I probably should, and I’ll not apologize any further. I laughed and laughed. Do I think it should receive any accolades? No, but I’d see it again.

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