Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Other Guys

2010, Adam McKay -- netflix

 I'm a Will Ferrell fan.  I'm not a fanatic, so I don't rush out to see everything he does, but I acknowledge how talented a comedian and performer he is and have never turned my nose up to seeing one of his pictures.  He's got a gift, whether innate or carefully crafted, he's able to generate physical, cerebral, base and absurd comedy on a whim.  He's not a broad comedian like Jim Carrey, or as goofball as Adam Sandler, or as vulgar as Eddie Murphy (in his heyday), or as arch as Bill Murray, but he's capable of all these kinds of comedy, making him a much more adaptable comedian than almost every huge comedy star from the past.  Truly though, his biggest successes come when he's in control, especially in his pictures with Adam McKay.

With McKay he created Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers (as well as the revolutionary Funny or Die web-channel), funny often brilliant comedies that encourage the performers to improvise, leaving as much funny stuff on the cutting room floor as in the film.  The Other Guys, however, is a much different picture, surprisingly so, and perhaps a necessary one to show what McKay and Ferrell are capable of.  The Other Guys is a full-on homage to the buddy cop action-comedies of the 1980s.  One would expect a rather pointed skewering of the genre out of McKay and Ferrell, but they keep it fairly broad, and limit it to the set-up.

As with most old-school buddy cop comedies, the hero of the picture tend to be the wild card, the off-the-book type constantly butting heads with the chief, but getting results.  He's usually partnered with the straight-laced guy who follows him dutifully as he goes off the books, providing a minimal effort to reign him in.  In The Other Guys, the buddy cops are both wild cards, and all I really need to tell you is they're played by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, and you know what to expect.  The difference is, the chief loves them, as do the press and everyone in the precinct.  They're rock-star cops, seemingly impervious to harm, able to accomplish any feat, or so they think, right up to their shockingly hilarious end.

Mark Whalberg's Terry Hoitz is a disgraced cop, or rather an embarrassed one, put on desk duty after an unfortunate discharge of his weapon.  With the city's heroes having fallen, he sees an opportunity to step up and take their place.  Unfortunately, he's partnered with Ferrell's Allen Gamble, the most straight-laced of straight-shooters, a guy who's more than happy to be a desk cop, file reports, and be the subject of other's practical jokes.  Hoitz and Gamble stumble on a seemingly innocent clerical error, but as they follow up on it, the innocuous balloons out into the biggest police case in New York history, which they tackle with an incremental amount of gusto.

The Other Guys doesn't play it completely straight, as it's funnier than, say a Lethal Weapon or a 48 Hours, but unlike so many genre comedies today, it's not completely spinning the subgenre on its head at every turn.  It invests in its characters, and far more than most McKay/Ferrell pictures, the comedy is largely scripted in, deriving from the characters and situation rather than through improv.  It delivers on the action, which is limited to being as over-the-top as most 80's action pics, not pushing it any further.

The film is a product of the post-bailout financial crisis, and while it doesn't lay heavy on the commentary, nor is it exceptionally relevant in-the-moment watching it, it yields a remarkable end credits sequence that's potent, informative, and not at all out of place.

Whalberg, not one of my favourite performers, puts in a good turn here, a cop full of bravado without much to back it up.  It's a role with surprising range that shapes up nicely against Ferrell's reigned in, buttoned-down performance.   All told, it's a solid, constantly entertaining picture.  While I'm looking forward to the Anchorman sequel/reunion, I hope that McKay and Ferrell have more straightforward vehicles like this in their reservoir as well.