The Other Guys: Preferring a More Feral Ferrell
In my review of Step Brothers, I wondered how much longer Will Ferrell’s manchild routine would remain fresh. In retrospect, Step Brothers grows funnier with time because Ferrell plays the unleashed idiot with such earnestness, and his collaborator Adam McKay knows when to let the scenes and plot drift away on absurd tangents. Here, McKay continues to try to grow as a director and storyteller, and Ferrell does a good job playing a different type of character, but the end result isn’t as funny. It’s still good for more laughs than the average 2010 comedy (and is a vast improvement over Cop Out, which covered some similar territory at times), but despite the improvements in Ferrell’s diversity and McKay’s storytelling, we’re unlikely to remember those guffaw-worthy moments that are so abundant the three times they previously joined forces.
We start with a fantastic sequence toeing the line between straight-up action and parody action, where hotshot police team P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Christopher Danson (The Rock) chase some criminals throughout the city, causing major damage and several explosions along the way. Back at the office, desk jockeys Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) greet them upon return. Hoitz is jealous, as he used to work the beat until he accidentally shot Derek Jeter and was relegated to the office. Gamble, however, loves doing paperwork and relishes his desk work. When Gamble and Hoitz finally do have to pursue a case, involving corporate sleazeball David Irshon (Steve Coogan), they stumble upon more than they bargained for. Along the way, Hoitz learns an increasing amount about Gamble’s personal life, including meeting his wife (Eva Mendes) and discovering his alternate persona, Gator. Yes, you read that correctly.
With the other McKay films, this movie is at its best when it reaches full-blown lunacy. However, with two main characters that rarely act out on their urges, it doesn’t seem to happen enough. Ferrell delivers a good performance as Gamble, bringing his trademark earnestness to a man just happy to file paperwork, but in the few scenes where he starts screaming, his insanity shines. One such scene involves being near an explosion when it occurs, and Ferrell rolling on the ground holding his ears, spewing one-liners about the movie industry being irresponsible for how they portray explosions. In fact, as with all McKay films, the one-liners are abundant, the best ones coming from Ferrell or from their rival cops in the station, played by Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr. Wahlberg does a fine job, but it’s so close to what he normally does, with his stilted manic delivery, that it’s hard to decipher just how in on the joke he is.
The movie works on some level as an action parody (I reckon folks would pay a pretty penny to see an actual Danson/Highsmith film). McKay’s specialty are portraits of absurd domestic life, such as the dinner table scenes in Talladega Nights or damn near all of Step Brothers, and this film has plenty of the same, with Gamble constantly chiding his wife for being a poor cook and looking plain, when in fact she’s as hot and nice as Eva Mendes. A visit to Gamble’s former girlfriend’s house provides many of the biggest laughs, as Christinith (Natalie Zea) and Hal (the very funny Brett Gelman) have a relationship so defined and so silly that they could almost certainly have been wildly successful re-occurring characters on SNL themselves. Between them and Gamble’s moments of becoming Gator towards the end, there could have been enough zaniness to make this movie take off. It’s a rare moment when I chide a director for trying too hard to deliver a plot, but McKay is committed to a story-driven film, with a story that’s merely okay, instead of being committed to making as wild and funny a film as possible. He could have gone with a more straight-forward film, but by introducing a number of McKayian tangents, it gave us a taste of how crazy the film could have been.