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Josh Reviews The Other Guys

September 3rd, 2010
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In this summer of bad movies, I suppose The Other Guys must be considered a great comedic success — and, I will freely admit, there is a lot of fun to be had in this film — but it’s not quite the home run I’d been hoping for from a cast and filmmakers of this pedigree.

Will Ferrell plays Allen Gamble, a quiet, bookish police officer who is more accountant than cop.  He’s been partnered with Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), a tough guy who’s been demoted and humiliated after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter during the World Series.  The two men both must live and work under the shadow of super-celebrity cops Highsmith and Danson (the perfectly cast Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).  While those two Lethal Weapon-type cops get all the glory (no matter how much chaos, violence, and property damage they might cause in their movie-style city-wide chases), when compared to them, Gamble and Hoitz are just “the other guys.”  But when Gamble’s eye for details notices some discrepancies in the financial reporting of Wall Street big-wig David Ershon (Steve Coogan), Hoitz sees a chance for glory if they can successfully make the big bust.

The Other Guys has a great cast.  I love the pairing of Ferrell and Wahlberg — that’s an inspired team-up, and watching the two of them bounce off one another is the greatest pleasure of the film.  There are some wonderful digressions over the course of the film (particularly during the first half) in which the story takes a back-seat for a minute for the two to engage in some sort of ridiculous debate, and those scenes are hysterical.  Steve Coogan is all smarm as the surprisingly pathetic Ershon, and he can wring a laugh out of a flummoxed look like nobody’s business.  I also really enjoyed seeing Michael Keaton as the put-upon police captain.  Mr. Keaton hasn’t had a lot of strong roles in the last decade or so, but the man is a riot.  It’s nice to see that he can still bring the funny when well-used in a film.

For the first hour, I was really loving The Other Guys.  The film was filled with zany scene after zany scene, but it was all anchored by a believable story about two good cops having to live in the shadow of the showboating super-stars of their department.  I’m not sure quite what went wrong, then, in the film’s second half, but in my opinion things seemed to peter out.  It might be that the story doesn’t seem to really go anywhere.  As an example, I felt that the momentum of the film grinds to a halt during the sequences in which Gamble and Hoitz get taken off the case.  It’s a familiar trope of these cop movies for the heroes to get temporarily thrown off the case they’re pursuing, but what’s weird in this film is the implication that MONTHS go by in the interim.  It suddenly takes all the urgency of what had been a frantic effort to stop the bad guy.  Also, as a bad guy, David Ershon proves remarkably simple to take down.  Once Gamble and Hoitz finally confront him, he crumbles immediately.  For me, that was a big let-down.  For these types of movies to have legs, the plot that surrounds all the jokes and craziness has to hold together as a compelling story, and this one doesn’t.

There is also an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink feel to the plot and the jokes in the film that seemed increasingly all over the place to me as the movie wound to its conclusion.  For every running joke that worked (like Hoitz’s repeated references to himself as a peacock) there was one that didn’t (the idea that Hoitz learned to dance perfectly just so he could make fun of others as a kid seems totally half-baked to me, and didn’t seem to go anywhere).  Same goes, by the way, for Mr. Farrell’s story-lines.  The running gag that, despite his nebbishy appearance, gorgeous women all find him unbearably attractive was a hoot… but on the other hand, I thought the trend of his slipping into pimp slang was stupid and, as with Hoitz’s dancing, didn’t seem to really go anywhere.

When the film ends, over the closing credits, there’s a whole series of animated graphics that illustrate various troubling statistics related to the recent financial melt-down.  The graphics are extremely well-done, and I thought those bits were quite fascinating.  But I found myself wondering just what the heck they had to do with the rest of the movie!!  Did the filmmakers think that, by making their villain a Wall Street guy, they were making a statement about the financial crisis?  (That would be sad, if they did.)  Again, this plays into the sort of desperate everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach that bothered me about the second half of the film.  Rather than a focus to the story and the jokes, it just felt to me like the filmmakers threw anything they could up at the screen, hoping something would stick.

It seems that they had a great idea for a film, and assembled a fine ensemble of comedic talent, but didn’t have a good plan as to how to actually resolve any of their character story-lines or comedic ideas in a satisfying way.  Compare this film to some other, more successful, zany Will Ferrell films such as Anchorman or Talladega Nights to see what I mean about having a focus to the story and the jokes.  Both of those films are also all over the place, and not afraid to take the time for bizarre comedic digressions (the “adult Jesus vs baby Jesus” conversation in Talladega Nights is a great example).  And yet those films were able to bring the threads of their characters’ stories, and all of the crazy jokes and running gags, together in the end to make a satisfying conclusion in a way that, for me, The Other Guys could not.

It’s a shame.  There’s a lot to enjoy about The Other Guys, but with a little more work (in the writing, in the editing), I think it really could have been great.

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