06 August 2010

The Other Guys

Mark Wahlberg, right, and Will Ferrell are shown in a scene from "The Other Guys."
It seems the movie-going public has been suffering a bit from Will Ferrell overload. All you need to do is take a look at the box office returns and critical assessments of some his recent films, both of which bottomed out with last year's flop, "Land of the Lost."

So for "The Other Guys," he returned to his comfort zone with Adam McKay, who directed him in "Anchorman," "Talladega Nights" and "Step Brothers." The quality of their collaborations also has followed a noticeable downward trend, one that "The Other Guys" easily reverses.

The premise is golden: Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson are P.K. Highsmith and Christopher Danson, New York City's biggest hotshot cops. They are celebrities not just within the police department but to the public at large. Car chases, shootouts, millions of dollars in property damage—they're all in a day's work, even when the perps are caught with less than a pound of marijuana.

In short, they are the kind of cops that are the focus of most action movies.

The "other guys" are Allen Gamble (Ferrell), an accountant content handling the paperwork stemming from the stars' exploits, and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), who's stuck behind a desk after hilariously earning the nickname "Yankee Clipper."

When Highsmith and Danson are moved out of the picture in demented fashion, Hoitz sees an opportunity to grab some of the spotlight, and he drags Gamble, his partner, along with him.

The case they investigate, white-collar crime involving characters played by Steve Coogan and Ray Stevenson (who forever will be known to me as Titus Pullo from HBO's "Rome"), is uninteresting. Luckily, it's only there to give the movie some semblance of a structure, a backbone for a string of scenes that allow Ferrell, Wahlberg and their co-stars to play off each other and riff.

Ferrell hasn't been this funny in years. Gamble has much in common with the IRS agent he played in "Stranger Than Fiction," though Ferrell goes a lot harder for the laughs here, and Gamble's nerdy exterior masks a darkness lurking just below the surface.

Wahlberg takes Hoitz's frustration a little over the top, with his constant shouting and insults to Gamble. But between this role and "Date Night" earlier this year, he is establishing himself as a viable comic actor.

The supporting cast is also solid, highlighted by Eva Mendes as Gamble's impossibly gorgeous wife and Michael Keaton as a police captain who moonlights as a Bed, Bath & Beyond manager. A great scene late in the film convinced me there is a whole other movie that could be made about Keaton’s character.

"The Other Guys" probably would be a better movie without the explosions and chases because its strength clearly lies in the onscreen performers. But it remains genuinely funny throughout most of its running time, its sense of humor twisted and risqué enough to push the PG-13 rating to the very limits.

Greg's Grade: B

(Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material. 107 minutes.)

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