Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bustin' Heads With THE OTHER GUYS.


- I had high hopes that The Other Guys might be awesome and hilarious. Even though the trailers never really wowed me, this was a movie from the team that brought us the comedy classic Anchorman and the almost-as-funny Talladega Nights and Step Brothers. If The Other Guys was in the same league as those films, it would be a surefire success. After seeing the movie, though, I declare The Other Guys to be a funny film, but also a very uneven one. Maybe its merits will be more evident as time goes by (afterall, it took me a while and multiple viewings to 100% come around to Anchorman), but my first impression after seeing the movie is that The Other Guys has its moments, but overall feels too slapped-together to really be called a home-run. This one just doesn't have the same mojo going for it as previous Will Ferrell and Adam McKay collaborations, although it definitely has enough inspired bits to be worth a watch.

The Other Guys tries to insert McKay and Ferrell's trademark over-the-top humor into the classic buddy-cop movie formula. Will Ferrell plays Allan Gamble, a mild-mannered NYPD policeman who spends all of his time at the safety of his desk rather than on the mean streets. Mark Wahlberg is his partner, Terry Hoitz, a hot-tempered guy who was a rising star on the force until he accidentally shot Yankees star Derek Jeter, and got thrown into a semi-permanent doghouse. Gamble, Heitz, and just about every other cop in the city are forever in the shadow of New York's resident supercops - played by two larger-than-life badasses in "The Rock" Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson. However, when these two superstars get sidelined due to a chase gone awry, there's a sudden opportunity for some new blood to step up and prove their mettle. Hoitz sees this as his big shot to get back to the bigtime. Gamble, content to stay out of trouble, has no desire to go off with his partner and get mixed up in anything dangerous. But soon enough, Hoitz and Gamble stumble into something big - a major case of corporate scandal-in-the-making - and find themselves pursued by trained killers, kidnapped by corrupt businessmen, and on thin ice with their harried captain (played by Michael Keaton, looking like Timothy Stack, who gets in some hilarious bits).

It's a fun setup, and I like that the movie mixes some genuine cop movie action and intrigue with the comedy. I've always liked comedies like Fletch that mixed the funny stuff with a legit-seeming plot and real-feeling danger, so I was intrigued that director McKay seemed to be taking a slightly less absurdist approach than in his previous outings. The beginning of the movie is particularly well-done, as we transition from what is almost a movie-within-a-movie - The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson busting heads in typical action-flick fashion - to the semi-pathetic 'other guys" on the force who live in their shadow. The initial pairing of Ferrell and Wahlberg seems to have a lot of promise, too. Ferrell as the yuppie-ish softie, and Wahlberg as the hothead with a chip on his shoulder. That alone could have made for a fun buddy cop comedy.

But where The Other Guys eventually falters is in the fact that it can't seem to leave well enough alone and keep things simple. The movie introduces all sorts of random, recurring gags that just never seem to go anywhere. Case in point ... we start getting this whole other backstory about how Ferrell's character has a secret past as a tough, take-no-prisoners pimp - a whole other persona that he's kept bottled up inside. It's a funny idea, but I don't know if there's any real payoff to it. There's a whole other running gag revolving around the fact that the nerdy Will Ferrell is married to the smoking Eva Mendez, and yet he keeps insisting that she's not all that attractive or special. The joke goes all over the place from there. At first the gag is that Ferrell doesn't realize how hot and amazing his wife (Eva Mendez - very game and funny) is. Then there's a whole thing about how Ferrell oddly attracts gorgeous women that should be way out of his league. And the joke keeps spiralling, until by the end of the movie we're not really sure what the joke actually is. There are a lot of running jokes in the film in that vein, that just seem to go nowhere. Like, I chuckled the first time Michael Keaton was oblivious to the fact that he'd just made an overt TLC reference. I smiled the second time it happened. By the third time, the joke was run into the ground sans any real punchline - and there are a lot of similarly go-nowhere gags throughout the movie that continually hint at funny plot reveals that never actually come to fruition. Similarly, a lot of plot threads feel pretty haphazardly dealt-with. The romantic subplot involving Wahlberg and his sad-eyed love-interest, for example, basically just feels like a time-filler, and we never really care about it in the least.

There are some really funny, if not random scenes though. Everything with The Rock and Samuel L. in the beginning is fairly golden, and their unexpectedly abrupt exit from the movie is pretty classic. The bits where Farrell morphs into his pimp persona, "Gator," are uniformly hilarious (which is why it's too bad it isn't played up more). Wahlberg in general is really funny - his monotone, pissed-off delivery makes almost all of his lines amusing. More so than any other movie he's been in, this one feels like Wahlberg essentially playing the Andy Samberg caricature of Mark Whalberg from SNL, and it's pretty funny. You expect him to bust out "say hello to your mother for me" at any moment (and he comes close). The movie also has a whole host of reliably funny comics in supporting roles. In addition to Ferrell, Wahlberg, Eva Mendez, and Keaton, there are a lot of familiar faces from films like Anchorman and TV shows like The Office and Parks & Recreation. The movie almost seems to raid the NBC Thursday Night comedy lineup for a lot of its bit players, but that's cool - there's a lot of talented comedians in the film who make the most of their relatively short screentime (including a certain Ms. S. Chase of West Hartford, CT, who gets in a great scene with Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson!). The only guy who feels a bit wasted is Steve Coogan as the movie's big bad, shady mogul David Ershon. Coogan is saddled with a ton of plot exposition that just seems extraneous in a movie like this. Honestly, by the end of the movie I barely had a clue what Ershon's scheme was or how exactly Farrell and Wahlberg put a stop to it. Coogan is a hilarious guy, so I thought it was too bad he didn't have many truly memorable comedic moments (although, a gag where he keeps buying off Farell and Wahlberg by giving them choice tickets to Broadway shows and Knicks games is pretty inspired). All in all, I'll give credit where it's due - the movie really benefits from a great, very comedically capable cast, who oftentimes help elevate the material with their timing and talent.

The Other Guys is one of those movies that sometimes feels more like a collection of funny little jokes and bits of dialogue than a real, cohesive comedy. Whereas Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers felt like complete, fully-realized comedic visions, this one is much more scattershot - torn between funny, absurdist bits of humor, and the need for the more conventional plotlines and character development that are typical of a buddy-cop movie. Anchorman worked so well precisely because it had a very particular, over-the-top comedic voice.The Other Guys doesn't have that same consistency in tone or humor. But, like I said, it has its moments.

My Grade: B

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