I enjoy most of the work of the current “frat-pack” of comedy actors – Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Vince Vaughn, Steve Carell, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd – with some of their movies: Zoolander, Dodgeball, 40 Year-Old Virgin andTropic Thunder, to name but a few, being particularly good. Will Ferrell is also a member of the group, and has developed his own brand of hilarious comedy from stints on Saturday Night Live, and cameos in some of the earlier comedies, to full-blown features. As with Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow (the collaborators behind masterpieces like Knocked Up), Ferrell has often worked with the same writer/director, namely, Adam McKay, with whom he has done an assortment of films, from the superb Anchorman to the more hit-and-miss Talladega Nights, a riff on Tom Cruise’s Days of Thunder. Their latest is the buddy-cop comedy The Other Guys, and it sees Ferrell teamed up with Mark Wahlberg for a potentially hilarious, action-filled ride. The trailer made it look fantastic, potentially the closest that the US has come to reaching the superior heights of the Brit comedy Hot Fuzz, but the question is – does it live up to expectations?
NYPD Detectives Danson and Highsmith are the best of the best of the best. With honours. They will do whatever it takes to catch the bad guys – even if that involves ploughing through a street-full of cars with a commandeered bus whilst shooting at suspects and blowing stuff up. And, at the end of the day, everybody loves them for it – the public idolise them; the other Detectives want to be like them. Two such Detectives are Gamble and Hoitz, a desk-bound pair who can only watch in awe as the big cases get taken down and the medals get awarded. But Hoitz has greater aspirations – he’s a good cop with a bad rap because he accidently shot a celebrity sports star – and he persuades Gamble, who dubs himself a ‘forensic accountant’, to join him on a dangerous investigation which could take down some powerful businessmen, who have their own private security on hand to do whatever it takes to protect their interests.
The Other Guys is another hit-and-miss comedy from the Ferrell/McCay team. It’s got almost enough action in it to be an outright action film, and has some truly laugh-out-loud moments of hilarity, but it’s not consistently good, the humour falling flat on more than one occasion. The prologue, which showcases Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the two aforementioned supercops, is superb, a total send-up of all straight police action-thrillers, complete with some pretty big stunts and explosions. Jackson and Johnson are great as the dynamic duo, and it’s a shame they don’t have a bigger part to play in this production. When Ferrell and Wahlberg take over, it takes a while before they hit their stride, and even then, the story gets in the way, the extraneous characters interject, and things rapidly lose steam.
There are still some fantastic moments: we get a great little argument about lions vs. Tuna fish, a funny little quarrel at a funeral, and plenty of good jokes at Gamble’s expense – both because he drives a Prius, and because nobody can understand his luck with women (he’s married to the stunning Eva Mendes, and you wait until you hear their hilarious backstory!). But over a 107-minute runtime (made yet longer for the near-two-hour extended cut) these laugh-out-loud moments feel few and far between, the rest of the narrative populated by unexpectedly big stunts and flat moments of intentionally stilted acting.
Will Ferrell is fairly good, but only sporadically on top form, and, I have to say, most of the best bits are evident from the trailer. Having had these laughs watching the trailer, it almost spoils the fun of the movie – as you don’t laugh half as much when you already know the joke (the bad cop, bad cop scene; the “running away from an explosion” outburst; the wooden gun ‘slap’ etc.). Mark Wahlberg should clearly do more comedy, as he’s quite adept at it, but he still has his distinctly flat moments – giving that ridiculous peacock speech too many times (once was more than enough). Still, the outbursts with the girl he likes are absolutely spot-on, particularly the bit where he accuses her of being a pole-dancer during her ballet class. But Michael Keaton as their police boss? Well many have warmed to his part here, regarding it as something of a comeback, but I actually thought he totally missed the mark. There were a couple of moments where his eccentric oddball boss performance worked, but for the most part it was just not very funny. At least to me. Steve Coogan also seems totally out of place here, although he’s not as bad as Rome’s Ray Stevenson, who has the strangest accent since Russell Crowe in Robin Hood. I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be Australian (he makes a Kylie reference) but, at best, he hits South African a couple of times, and most of the time it’s just a mess.
Of course, as mentioned, here we get the Extended Cut. This should definitely be the one you watch if you enjoyed this movie at the cinema, because it brings yet more funny bits to the front. Almost ten minutes of them. But, in doing so, it makes the feature far too long – and it was already too long. What they should have done is trim out other stuff, and leave in the moments in the Extended Cut, because they were quite funny. Unfortunately, if you’re watching this movie for the first time, I’d watch the Theatrical version to see if you enjoy it. If you really like it, you’ll always come back for more. But watching the longer version could only further frustrate a person who isn’t feeling the humour of this production.
There’s also something odd about the editing, some scenes ending really abruptly, and some of the cuts between shots feeling rough around the edges. But perhaps what’s most out of place is the pseudo-social commentary that appears to be running throughout, and comes to the fore in the end credits with an arty montage of statistics about corrupt big business and governments bailing out banks. It’s like the end of Seagal’s On Deadly Ground, where the big man starts spouting forth about environmental pollution and renewable energy – it’s all worthy stuff but what the hell is it doing at the end of an action film? Similarly here, occasionally the jokes are too high-brow, close to being bitter snipes at big business, and – at the least – often not quite generating anything other than a knowing smirk. Coogan’s speech about American’s yearning for excess, for example, and there’s also a bit where the chief starts talking about having to do two jobs so that his bisexual son can go to university to be a DJ. I can see what they’re going for, but it largely falls flat, with light-hearted slights at tweeting and online vs. printed publications largely going under the radar.
I think Hot Fuzz worked considerably better because of the love of the genre that those filmmakers were seeking to send-up, in an over-the-top way. Here there are too many unlikeable characters, too many loud, annoying individuals, and too much filler before they get to the meat. If they’d cut straight to the pimp segment, much earlier on, it might have spiced things up and kept the momentum flowing. As is, this one just didn’t work with me. But humour’s very subjective, so I’m sure there were plenty who found it more agreeable. I think I just wasn’t in on the joke.
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