The Other Guys
'Guys,' guns, & glory: Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell take buddy-cop genre to comic extremes
It was depressing watching Mark Wahlberg pretend to be awake for the gunfights and explosions in “Max Payne.’’ It was excruciating to see him look so overmedicated in “The Lovely Bones.’’ And it was absolutely inhumane to make us watch him talk to plants in “The Happening.’’ The only upside was a couple of very funny “Saturday Night Live’’ sketches in which Andy Samberg spoke to real animals using Wahlberg’s sweaty whisper.
Wahlberg, of course, has been funny in his own right (see his existentialist fireman in “I Heart Huckabees’’ or his humorless detective in “The Departed’’). But with any luck, 2010 will be the year he gets to stay that way. In the spring, he and his bare torso pilfered a few scenes in “Date Night,’’ and today he stuffs an entire movie down his pants. “The Other Guys’’ sticks him with Will Ferrell, but what seems like another desperate adventure in stunt casting turns out to be a combustible comic bounty.
As NYPD detectives trying to solve a case involving a corrupt financial titan (Steve Coogan), Wahlberg and Ferrell take turns letting the other lose control. Speaking only comedically, who in this relationship is the straight man?
Ferrell’s Allen Gamble likes his desk job. The pushing of paper and picking of nits satisfies his nerdy nature. Street crime doesn’t interest him. That’s precisely where his partner, Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg), wants to be. Hoitz is a blunt hothead with an itchy trigger finger. He screams at Gamble for depriving him of the action he so desperately wants. But once they do hit the streets and start cracking the case, they’re a disastrous misalliance. Expensive for New York, but easy summer entertainment for us.
Wahlberg erupts all over Ferrell, who tries to sit and take it until he no longer can. In an early scene, Wahlberg lays into Ferrell, telling him if he were a lion and Ferrell were a tuna, he’d swim into the ocean to tear him apart. Wahlberg’s keyed-up delivery in this scene has both a touch of madness and hilarious only-child entitlement. Ferrell picks up on the brattiness of Wahlberg’s tirade and sets out to embarrass him. His matter-of-fact rebuttal becomes a sermon in which his tuna is more or less eating Wahlberg’s lion.
The comedy of the scene resides in a kind of suspense: Will Wahlberg top Ferrell or concede? It’s unclear whether the cup of hot coffee Wahlberg then slings at his costar is one or the other. Either way, that’s funny, too. The scene is a coming attraction for the shenanigans that follow. If their routine gets old, it’s only because the movie is 20 minutes longer than it has any business being.
“The Other Guys’’ is, at its core, a perceptive satire of the interpersonal boiling points in buddy-cop pictures. How Eddie Murphy knew just how to blow Nick Nolte’s or John Ashton’s top. How it took Herculean self-indulgence on Mel Gibson’s part to chafe Danny Glover’s decency. The cliches of these relationships and the movies that featured them have been mocked in Edgar Wright’s “Hot Fuzz’’ and Kevin Smith’s lazy, lousy “Cop Out.’’ But “The Other Guys,’’ while not as well made as “Hot Fuzz,’’ is better attuned to the hackneyed machismo of Hollywood cop movies of every stripe.
It concocts a familiar world of movie precincts high in testosterone. In the opening minutes, Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson play a pair of supercops who manage to cause millions of dollars in damage while saving the day. They star in press conferences and party with the likes of Brody Jenner, Bai Ling, and someone uncharitably described as a cast member from “Jersey Shore.’’ Both the city and the other cops worship them.
Their arbitrary and hilariously sudden demise leads to a no-less-random sequence in which their fellow detectives fistfight at a funeral to replace them. Director Adam McKay, who wrote the movie with Chris Henchy and is a frequent coconspirator and enabler of Ferrell (“Step Brothers’’ and the joyous “Talladega Nights’’) stages the fight in stage whispers, lest anyone at the double funeral hear fisticuffs. (Michael Keaton is very good as the loosely exasperated captain.)
Most of the cops here, especially one played by Bobby Cannavale, have the antic, jumpy volatility of certain cokeheads. This is a movie that feeds that suspicion by having Ferrell and Wahlberg drive around Manhattan in a Prius powdered with cocaine. I don’t know why it’s funny. More than anything, it’s nonsense. But everything in this movie is. Hoitz busts in on an ex-girlfriend who’s a dancer and proceeds to twirl like a ballerina (“You learned to dance like that sarcastically?’’ Ferrell asks).
Hoitz spends the movie shocked that Gamble is married to Eva Mendes — here, that’s Dr. Eva Mendes — who sings a song called “Pimps Don’t Cry’’ to Gamble, whose mild manner is apparently the result of an outrageous college life. That song also appears during the closing credits, along with lots of outrageous statistics about the financial industry. Yes, this is the only movie of the summer to come with its own Harper’s Index and narration by Ice-T.
The movie works because it feels like its two stars have something they need to get off their chests. Ferrell is experimenting with restraint. His partner clowns around with rage. Judging from his shirtlessness in “Date Night’’ and his short fuse here, Wahlberg is trying to turn a corner. He knows he’s a dish best served hot.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Mark Wahlberg's character. The correct spelling is Hoitz.