Inconsistency Stifles 'The Other Guys' Cleverness

When it works, it's rip-roaringly hilarious. When it doesn't it's deader than the cinematic category it's parodying.

The Other Guys

Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Columbia Classics
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-08-06 (Limited release)
UK date: 2010-08-06 (General release)

It was so overdone in the '80s and '90s that it's become a cliché: the mismatched odd couple members of a certain profession (cops, killers, convenience store clerks); the irritable, no nonsense supervisor; the larger than life antagonists; the surreal supporting characters. The buddy comedy has gone through a lot of changes since its high concept contrivances, and yet sadly, it's still capable of suffering from the same old formulaic failings (isn't that right, Cop Out???). Now comedy 'partners' Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers) are taking on the genre, including all of its tainted truisms, with the scathing if scattered The Other Guys. When it works, it's rip-roaringly hilarious. When it doesn't it's deader than the cinematic category it's parodying.

Among New York City's finest are the outsized police personalities Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne Johnson). Taking on the city's crime with a slash and burn mentality, they are celebrated for their hair-raising histrionics. Unfortunately, this doesn't leave a lot of room in the public eye for "the other guys' - workaday cops like Detective Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Detective Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg). The former is a department accountant. The latter has a trigger happy past and has been demoted to desk duty. When Highsmith and Danson suddenly find themselves out of commission, the force starts looking for some new 'heroes'. Initially, Gamble and Hoitz are overlooked for such high profile duty. But when they stumble across as multi-billion dollar fraud scheme involving investment high roller David Ershon (Steve Coogan), their irascible captain Mauch (Michael Keaton) thinks they might be up to the job.

Like the recent Dinner for Schmucks, a lot of The Other Guy's success rides on the star power silliness of Will Ferrell. Playing a button down pencil pusher who wants nothing to do with actual police field work, his stunted savant expertly measures and reflects the viability of this movie's otherwise uneven humor. Whenever he's getting on co-star Wahlberg's nerves, whenever he is aggravating Keaton's captain or referring to his otherwise smoking hot wife (Eva Mendes) as a "plain old battleaxe", his Gamble is great. Even in the moments when insanity takes over and he starts channeling his inner action hero, the material works. What doesn't is the bumbling backstory involving the character's college life as an accidental pimp and the faux African American accent attributed to said alter ego, "Gator". It seems forced, a written idiosyncrasy that plays pat - and rather desperate - in reality.

Luckily, the faux white slaver doesn't show up a lot in The Other Guys. Instead, McKay does his best Hot Fuzz finessing of the overblown film type and, for a while at least, it brims with brilliant comic bombast. Jackson and Johnson are so pitch perfect as the retro supercops that when they "drop" out of the picture, you miss them horribly. In some ways, a battle between the daring duo of Highsmith and Danson and the dipsticks Gamble and Hoitz would have made for a masterful round of stereotype one-upmanship. But as he does with most of the movie, McKay defies expectations to go for something more strange, skewed, and surreal. From Wahlberg's scenery chewing outbursts to Keaton's twitchy TLC references, The Other Guys is a wealth of weird, wonderful parts.

Sadly, said segments don't really add up to something wholly satisfying. Instead, we get the distinct impression of a project put together, piece meal, out of the best bits of adlibbing and preplanned improvisation. This makes for a very uneven experience. There are times when this movie drags like Ferrell's flop Land of the Lost. There are times when it can easily match the insanity of Ricky Bobby's ballad or Ron Burgundy's legend - it all depends on the target and who's taking it on. As competing cops in the precinct, Rob Riggle and Daman Wayans Jr. are completely unnecessary, running around mimicking the funnier material given to others. Even worse, once you move beyond the badge, the rest of the characters are nothing more than clever crates of cardboard. You expect more from Steve Coogan. Instead, he comes off as a more deluded David Frost. And as for Ray Stevenson, Anne Heche, or the various celebrity cameos? They're nothing but gimmicks, recognizable without given much of anything to do.

On the other hand, the usually mundane Mendes steps up her limited acting game to give Ferrell a real run for his moronic money. As the doctor who fell in love with Gamble during an embarrassing trip to the ER, she's clueless and yet clued-in, knocking down dopey punchlines with the best of them. That McKay doesn't alter her personal perception, even when Wahlberg is making major sexy beast cow eyes at her is right up this movie's modus operandi alley. We expect the affair, and instead, get joke after successful joke. In fact, a fine little comedy could have been made out of the whole mismatched cops with the differing style/sensibility dynamic. But The Other Guys has bigger concepts to mock - and this may be where it goes astray.

When Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost took on the genre types with their drop dead masterpiece Hot Fuzz, they celebrated the excesses and the excuses. They turned the entire project into a love letter - to both the movies of the era and the audiences who lapped them up. The Other Guys doesn't begin to address that dichotomy. Instead, it recognizes the truisms and then trods upon them, with or without smarts. This is still a wickedly funny film, delivering more chuckles per chance than most of the comedies this Summer. But when you've got a subject as ripe as the mangled machismo of the buddy cop film, you should have something more to offer than pot shots. The Other Guys is a decent, hit or miss experience. Luckily, the blows it lands are superior to the swipes it botches.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

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Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

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In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

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The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

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When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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