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'The Other Guys': Subversive Masters of the Studio Comedy

A conventional genre framework allows Adam McKay to latch on to a more directly satirical idea; in this case, the way big-stakes financial crime gets ignored in favor of action with a high body count.

The Other Guys

Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Riggle
Distributor: Sony
Rated: PG-13
Release date: 2010-12-14

Six or seven years after Judd Apatow, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Steve Carell and others ushered in a new era of big-studio comedy, that landscape has been altered, but not radically changed. Apatow still shepherds smart-silly comedies like Get Him to the Greek, but there are plenty of low-rent knockoffs, too, like She's Out of My League or Going the Distance. Apatow also gave Adam Sandler an incisive showcase with Funny People, but it was handily outgrossed by lazier Sandler vehicles like Grown Ups. Nimble comedians like Jack Black and Ben Stiller still star in junk like Gulliver's Travels or Little Fockers.

Some changes remain the same, namely that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay continue to make movies -- some of the best broad comedies around. In a bizarre confluence of quality and popularity, Ferrell's comedies with McKay have also made more money than most of his more traditional comic work. This streak continued with The Other Guys, a Ferrell/McKay take on the buddy cop genre, now out on Blu-Ray.

Though the new improv-trained comedians tend to travel in various permutations, Ferrell and McKay work to bring fresh performers into their orbit, which explains the pairing of Ferrell, playing mild-mannered desk jockey Allen Gamble, with straight-faced movie star Mark Wahlberg, playing his hotheaded partner Terry. Allen and Terry, along with the rest of their department, are constantly overshadowed by the exploits of wisecracking, hilariously movie-ish cops Highsmith and Danson. Because The Other Guys is the rare big-budget studio comedy that knows how to allocate its resources, Highsmith and Danson are played by Sam Jackson and The Rock, and their exploits have a convincing combination of Hollywood sheen and chintz -- plus the accompanying pompousness, as they wreck property and risk lives to bust small-time drug dealers.

When Highsmith and Danson are indisposed, though, Terry -- a New York pariah after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter -- wants to step up and become an alpha cop, while Allen would prefer to investigate some mishandled scaffolding permits. Ferrell gets attention for going big and cocky with characters like Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby, but he's equally adept at playing an earnest nerd like Allen. Terry has slightly less definition, but Wahlberg plays his rage with perfect sincerity; his genuine dislike of Allen feels real and hilariously impotent.

By fitting the typical Ferrell/McKay free-associative strangeness into a familiar genre, Other Guys more closely resembles Talladega Nights than the untethered insanity of Anchorman or Step Brothers. Like Talladega, a conventional genre framework allows McKay to latch on to a more directly satirical idea, in this case regarding the way big-stakes financial crime gets ignored in favor of action with a high body count. Of course, plenty of absurdity still pops up: witness a bravura monologue in which Allen explains how a school of tuna could win a fight against a lion, or a dark, strange secret from Allen's past.

The function of a Ferrell/McKay home-video release is to provide gradations of that absurdity: there's the theatrical version along with the standard unrated cut offering five or ten minutes of additional footage; another half-hour of deleted scenes; more minutes of alternate-take improvisations; and a blooper reel. In the case of The Other Guys, the "unrated" version is fine but, as is often the case, only slightly modified from the original.

There are bigger laughs in the 30-minutes of deleted scenes. Several sequences round out the genre-parody aspect of the movie: a lunch run shot to look like an exciting drug deal; Alan's paperwork scored the way another movie would frame a preparation for a shoot-out; and a hilariously bizarre expansion of a Ferrell/Eva Mendes sex scene. It's all pretty funny, and also instructive as to how the team might shape their film as it goes, navigating from clever genre riff to something trickier and loopier (further in the parody direction, the disc also includes "flash forwards" with quick-shot comic consequences of the movie's casual action violence). The Other Guys is never quite a spoof in The Naked Gun vein, but it's too comedically distinctive to fall into the common action-comedy trap of avoiding laughs in favor of pyrotechnics.

The extra material obviously runs too long to fit into the theatrical version of the film. But its quality prompts a question: why has McKay never attempted to assemble a mega-cut with as much material as possible, like the fabled three-hour initial cuts of his other films? He's one of the few career comedy directors with a command of both visual filmmaking and pure-dialogue improvisation (the extended dinner-table conversations engineered here and in Step Brothers are pure joy). McKay's theatrical cuts are always excellent and his disc releases always worthwhile, but perhaps it's time for him to issue the Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition of comedy.


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