Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Other Guys / *** (PG-13)

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Allen Gamble: Will Ferrell
Terry Hoitz: Mark Wahlberg
Captain Gene Mauch: Michael Keaton
Dr. Sheila Gamble: Eva Mendes
David Ershon: Steve Coogan
Roger Wesley: Ray Stevenson
Martin: Rob Riggle
Fosse: Damon Wayans, Jr.
P.K. Highsmith: Samuel L. Jackson
Christopher Danson: Dwayne Johnson

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Adam McKay. Written by McKay & Chris Henchy. Running time: 107 min. Rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material).

In my review of the film “Cop Out” from earlier this year, I commented at how angry I was while writing the review. I was angry that I had sat through such a pathetic excuse for a buddy cop comedy, angry that I had to write about it afterward. Like an answer to that film’s failures, comes the new Will Ferrell buddy cop comedy vehicle “The Other Guys”. “The Other Guys” gets everything right that “Cop Out” got totally wrong. This is the buddy cop comedy you want to see.

The movie stars Ferrell (“Step Brothers”) as Detective Allen Gamble, Hollywood’s first ever portrayal of a forensic accountant—a real cop job according to the filmmakers. He’s paired with Detective Terry Hoitz, a good cop who’s been knocked down to essentially desk duty because he accidentally shot Derek Jeter. Mark Wahlberg (“Date Night”) is well used in the role, which capitalizes on two of his best skills—his ability to make fun of his own image and his ability to put others down. Hoitz delights in insulting Gamble at every convenience.

The entire precinct plays second fiddle to the two stars of the force, Highsmith and Danson, played by the absurdly testosteroned Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  These guys are essentially spoofs of the typical buddy cop movie heroes. They cause untold amounts of damage to the city, place everyone around them in danger, and get all the accolades. What happens to them has a sort of perfection to it and proves an understatement of their captain’s assessment that they really weren’t very good cops.

Anyway, Gamble and Hoitz get their shot at a real case when Gamble stumbles across a Bernie Madoff type character named David Erschon (Steve Coogan, “Tropic Thunder”), who makes his money scamming investors. Their pursuit of Erschon produces some of the film’s best laughs. Observe the sequence where Erschon first distracts the detectives by offering them tickets to Broadway shows, then the cops interrogate him with a good cop/bad cop ploy gone awry. This scene is particularly funny in the way the absurdity just develops without the characters seeming to try to be absurd.

While the movie is firmly grounded in the buddy cop genre, it ventures into the same realms of ridiculousness as Ferrell’s and director Adam Mckay’s other hits “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”. As we learn more about the two cops’ pasts, their former antics fly further off the rails. Hoitz thinks every crime must be related to drugs or gun trafficking and he likes to become an expert performer of artistic ventures in order to make fun of the people who are really artistically natured. “I learned to dance so I could make fun of the guys that did it in school,” he says after some impressive dance moves.

Ferrell’s background is even more absurd. His wife (Eva Mendes, “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans”) is smoking hot, yet he doesn’t seem to notice. In fact, he treats her as if she’s some homely burden he’s been hung with. We learn that prior to police work he basically acted as a pimp on his college campus, although he sees it as merely helping his female friends to hook up with men for a percentage of the money they charged their clients. See, that’s not exactly… no wait. Yes, that’s pimping.

Much like the expertly directed racing scenes in “Talladega Nights”, McKay once again shows a knack for adapting his style to the genre in which he’s spoofing.  The action scenes here could work in any straightforward police picture. Some critics have complained that the grittiness of the action works against the absurd humor developed by the filmmakers, but I like the contrast.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the film is the rediscovery of one of Hollywood’s lost comedic talents, Michael Keaton. Keaton started out as a comedian in such vehicles as “Mr. Mom” and “Night Shift”. When he turned toward more dramatic fare in his later career, he seemed to be quickly forgotten. As the typical beleaguered precinct captain, Keaton brings not only more funny to the film, but a freshness to a character that has been overdone to the point of becoming a blackened, tasteless, bone-dry shell in film after film. Keaton’s captain doesn’t spend his every minute on screen yelling at his detectives. He plays the character more like a babysitter that tries to find the right approach at maximizing incompetence. I loved the bit at his moonlighting job at a home improvement store when he starts to tell his store employees about a serial rapist on the loose.

“The Other Guys” gets the look and feel of the buddy cop flick pitch perfect, but is free to have a good deal of fun both within and outside the conventions of the genre. Unlike Kevin Smith’s “Cop Out”, the cast here seems to be working hard and having fun, rather than phoning it in. The combination of Will Ferrell’s particular brand of absurd humor and gritty, hard action work well with the help of Mark Wahlberg bridging the gap between comedy and legitimate action hero.  This one left me with a smile and a few sore ribs, as opposed to a furrowed brow and a broken keyboard.

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