For many they are the cinematic equivalent of Marmite, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Ferrell/McKay features have been a mainstay of film comedy in recent years, always guaranteed of a reasonable return allowing for the next to get the green light. Still arguably the highlight remains their first teaming up, 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, since which with periodic efficiency every two years another instalment is unleashed; 2006 saw Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, 2008 brought us the bro-comedy Step (with an excellent comic turn from John C Reilly) and now the 2010 issue is upon us with The Other Guys.
As with all previous collaborations between the pair it is a hyper-absurdist take on a familiar theme, this time that of the cop drama. We follow two mismatched police officers as they attempt to crack the case that’ll make their careers. Detective Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) is a street tough cop who doesn’t mince his words and has serious anger management issues whilst his partner Gamble (Ferrell) is a desk jockey happily ensconced in a world of filing and administrative duties, eschewing danger and excitement for a life of safety and a steady wage. The term “the other guys” comes from their pariah-like status amongst their peers, with both garnering zero respect from their colleagues and affectionately referred to as “paper bitches”. However, when the grandstanding Hollywood pairing of uber-cops Highsmith and Danson (played with tongues firmly wedged in cheeks by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) meet an untimely end, the station pecking order is upset with all vying to fill the role of heroes to an adoring public that needs larger-than-life law enforcers.
This is certainly one of the glossiest Ferrell/McKay features, surpassing perhaps even the race-track based hilarity of Talladega Nights complete with all the high powered vehicles and set-pieces that came with their inclusion. The lampooning of cop films is an area that needs a certain amount of explosions, gunfights and slow-motion action sequences and clearly McKay has been given the keys to the toy cupboard as The Other Guys comes out swinging with an astoundingly ridiculous car chase involving Highsmith and Danson. The pair are overblown walking egos capable of ridiculous feats of bravery fuelled by their own sense of grandeur, they are the very embodiments of a potential genetic experiment intending to mix the
DNAof Murtaugh, Shaft, Cash and Cobra (a nod to which appears later in the film as the poster of the 80’s kitsch action-thriller adorns the wall of Hoitz’ apartment). They jump from moving cars, discharge firearms in busy city streets, crash their high powered SS Camaro into a bus full of tourists before Danson continues the chase, in pursuit of a carload of stereotypical Rasta types armed with a small arsenal, in the bus with the car still poking from the side. Ridiculous over-the-top fun that finishes in a hilarious jack-knifing of the vehicle which proceeds to propel the muscle car from its midst straight into the rabble of ne’er-do-wells, all the whilst Highsmith (still in the car) fires two guns as the crumple vehicle flies through the air, reading the perps their rights in a gloriously clichéd slow-motion sequence. You’re left in no doubt that this is a comedy, but you’ll likely have seen less credible action set-pieces in supposedly serious cop flicks before and McKay nails the mix of explosive fun and mocking pastiche.
The problem is that the characters of Highsmith and Danson, who appear every inch the equal of perhaps the greatest parody American cinema has brought us in recent years, Black Dynamite, don’t hang around for long. They are merely a plot device to impress upon us just how low in the pecking order our two would be heroes actually are and where the lines of reality lay in this bizarre world. It is all very well to follow the ethos of “always leave the audience wanting more”, but when you’ve still got ninety minutes to fill, the central figures around which your film is based shouldn’t really be seen as second best, and there’s a very real argument to be made that this is the case with The Other Guys. Even I, as an unashamedly enthusiastic fan of even the more mediocre Ferrell comedies, couldn’t help wondering what a feature centred around Highsmith and Danson would have been like. Still, no point crying over spilt milk, or in this case dead cops, as Ferrell’s track record shows he’s more than capable of filling a comedic hole and it should prove interesting to see how Wahlberg copes with lighter material.
The majority of the laughs pivot on the age old odd pairing premise, in this case Gamble (Ferrell) being the staid stickler for all things paperwork based and Hoitz (Wahlberg) desperately wanting to hit the streets and do some genuinely dangerous police work, like a simplified Dragnet. The idea of one man shouting and the other being a geek fails to find the right chemistry though as Wahlberg inevitably comes off worst with him seemingly reading the script and Ferrell riffing with it. Even when the two dimensional character of Hoitz is allowed a few scenes alone they invariably fall flat, being based on fairly sound premises (always over-reacting, building a jazz-tinged melancholic parody of a cop’s doomed relationship and personal issues) they never quite hit the mark (or should that be marky mark?) and flounder in that comic limbo of “nearly funny”. Gamble as a character on the other hand has perhaps too many good ideas left unexplored, the flashback of Ferrell as a pimp in a velour tracksuit, gold teeth and flick-knife positively demanded more screen time but is cruelly cut short as a mere aside.
The peripheral cast flesh out the running time, perhaps slightly too much as the film pushes two hours, with Steve Coogan as an investment banker on the run from some shady former clients, Eva Mendes playing Gamble’s insanely perfect wife and Michael Keaton as the hapless duo’s Captain who also has a part-time job in Bed, Bath and Beyond. None are realistically more than filler, Coogan’s comic talents are curtailed, much as one would expect for all great British comedians who feature in American films these days (big paycheque, smallish screen time and none of the best lines) but at least Keaton gets a few chortle moments and plays for laughs surprisingly well.
Once the plot has hit the climax and the showdown is afoot the action sequences sadly never hit the heights that the early moments of Highsmith and Danson promised. There are neat touches, gunshots galore and a great helicopter explosion but the attention to detail, parodying genuine cop films, just seems to evaporate into standard action-comedy territory. If you were hoping for a faux-police drama in the mould of Hot Fuzz that can poke fun as well as revel in the brainless source material then you may be disappointed - this is big budget but run-of-the-mill Ferrell fare. It’s amusing but Wahlberg’s presence isn’t suited to comedy, even if it is the straight man role, had McKay gone for an all out spoof and cast a misplaced John C Reilly as the tough guy cop I’d wager the results would have been more in line with the director’s track record of placing those with proven comic talents in even the straightest seeming roles.
It may be sub-Hot Fuzz material, but it is yet another chance for fans of Ferrell to witness the funny man’s ability to twist a script and play with off-the-cuff remarks that the other actors clearly aren’t expecting. It's formulaic and contains more than a little filler but for those keen on Ferrell/McKay comedies this will still be enough to raise plenty of smiles…….the rest of us can just hope the studio will see fit to make a feature length Highsmith and Danson blockbuster or maybe even tell the full tale of Gator the pimp!
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