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Non-Review Review: The Other Guys

Have you ever watched Lethal Weapon and wondered what the cops in that precinct who aren’t Riggs and Murtagh get up to? Or watched Die Hard and wondered what John McClane’s deskmate might have been like? Well then, The Other Guys is the movie for you.

Top of the cops?

The movie opens with a spectacular car chase featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who, thankfully, has dropped the “The Rock is my middle name” bit). These are the types of excessive, gun-wielding, kung-fu-fighting law enforcement officers from any action movie. At one point, Jackson flies at a bunch of drug dealers in his car, while firing his gun wildly and shouting, “You have the right to remain silent, but I wanna hear you scream!”

However, as the ice cool narration from Ice-T explains, this isn’t their story.

This is the story of Terry and Allan, the two jokes of the police department. They aren’t even equivalent to the traditional “rival” supporting cop duo in such films – akin to Nestor Serrano and his partner in Bad Boys – as the station already has a similar pair in Ron Rifkin and Damon Wayans. You know that Terry and Allan are pretty low on the pecking order because they’re second fiddle to Ron Rifkin and Damon Wayans.

I have to admit that I found the movie more enjoyable in its opening act, as it set up the status quo. You got the sense that these really were tertiary characters in the grand scheme of things. However, inevitably, things change and Terry and Allen find themselves roped into a grand action-filled plot – after all, any mainstream summer comedy will have trouble selling itself on the basis that “nothing happens”. And don’t get me wrong, the movie is at least consistently entertaining throughout. I just really dug the metafictional aspect of the first half-hour before it became a generic action comedy.

That said, the laughs do come much thicker once the leads are actually given something to do, it just becomes something a lot “safer” and conventional. Terry and Allan find themselves about to crack open a big financial case – which hilariously and continuously disappoints Terry as he tries to figure out the connection to drugs or guns (of course, the movie features more than its fair share of action, so the jokes are just a bit hypocritical – despite the economic aspect seeming timely, it certainly isn’t anything approaching an intellectual triumph).

Fair cop...

The movie does well to play its two actors off each other. That most unlikely of comedians, Mark Wahlberg, manages to cover for the fact that he isn’t quite at home in the genre by playing his role entirely straight. It almost seems like he brought his character from The Departed (complete with anger issues) into a Will Ferrell movie. And it works. It isn’t a performance which makes me re-evaluate Wahlberg as an actor, but it’s a solid performance for the type of film it is. Ferrell has this sort of socially awkward straight-faced delivery routine down at this stage, and he’s no more or less reliable than he is in anything else.

The rest of the cast is rounded out with actors who aren’t really doing anything particularly brilliant, but are among the better comedic talents out there. I particularly enjoyed small roles for Michael Keaton and Steve Coogan, neither of whom has ever really gotten the respect they deserve (though you could argue that is the result of some really poor career choices).

The movie attempts to seem more timely than it actually is be sticking in a sort of economy-related subplots about amoral investors and money funds and that sort of thing. The end credits are worth sticking around to watch as they feature perhaps the most charming slide show presentation on the economic crisis that I’ve seen (Al Gore would be proud). That said, it doesn’t really give the movie an edge, as no mainstream Will Ferrell comedy is going to spend its time explaining the causes of the financial meltdown to its audience, nor stick its feet in the mud by attempting to adopt a position (or spark a discussion on it). As such, I more appreciated the genre-specific elements of the movie, like Allen lamenting how Hollywood lies to us about how easy it is to walk away from an explosion.

The Other Guys isn’t a laugh-a-minute comedy. It isn’t the best in its genre. It isn’t the funniest movie of the year. However, it is mostly entertaining and diverting. It’s light. It has a clever concept that it executes with at least a tiny bit of skill. In any other year, this would be a run-of-the-mill comedy. Perhaps it’s telling that it’s one of the more entertaining movies of the summer.

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4 Responses

  1. While I didn’t think Coogan was up to much I do agree about Keaton. I liked Wahlberg more than Ferrell. I think I’m starting to tire of his humour. Still I enjoyed it for what it was and your conclusion wasn’t too far off my own.

  2. I think it’s worth noting that the film’s subtle skewering of Americans not caring about benign crime and its effects on the world is true.

    We look through the paper about killings, rapings, kidnappings, but at the end of the day we ignore the financial crimes and we end up in recession.

    • Yep, it’s a valid point. Except they then turn that “benign crime” into a conspiracy with just as much violence, car chases and other cop stereotypes as any drug bust.

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