Rumors of Will Ferrell’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. After falling from his perch atop the comedy world with a trio of high-profile disappointments Semi Pro Land of the Lost and Step Brothers the venerable funnyman seemed destined to join the tragic ranks of fellow SNL alums Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy comic geniuses who fell prey to their own spectacular success. But he makes a triumphant return to form in The Other Guys a riotous action comedy from longtime Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay (Anchorman Talladega Nights).
Playing Allen Gamble a straightlaced NYPD detective happily confined to his desk job as a forensic accountant Ferrell dials down the goofball element that metastasized in recent years instead exhibiting a kind of earnest cluelessness more reminiscent of his character in Elf. Safely in his element crunching numbers and combing paperwork for accounting irregularities risk-averse Gamble is more than willing to concede the spotlight to the precinct’s glory-hound celebrity cops Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel Jackson) who’ve charmed the citizenry with their heroic indifference toward danger private property or common sense.
Gamble’s good-natured obliviousness earns him the disdain of his embittered cubicle mate Detective Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) who unlike Gamble didn’t come by his desk job by choice. In a city scarred by accidental police shootings and devoted to its beloved Yankees Hoitz committed the ultimate sin clipping an unarmed Derek Jeter in the leg during a moment of panicked confusion. (“You should have shot A-Rod!” one heckler shouts.) Removed from the street indefinitely by his boss Captain Gene Mauch (a scene-stealing Michael Keaton) Hoitz is a snarling ball of impotent rage most of which he directs at Gamble. (For those of you keeping score yes Keaton’s character is named after the former baseball manager.)
This being a buddy comedy Gamble’s and Hoitz’s fates are destined to intersect. Sure enough their chance to seize the fire comes when the city’s all-star crime-stoppers Danson and Highsmith are abruptly taken out of commission in one of the most shockingly hilarious twists in recent movie history.
Wahlberg and Ferrell may not make the best cops but they’re an absolutely stellar comedic team. To their credit McKay and Other Guys screenwriter Chris Henchy know we won’t settle for just the tired bickering odd-couple scenario of buddy comedies past (see Cop Out) and they take care at several points to flip the script on the formula when Gamble and Hoitz hit the streets together giving Wahlberg as many opportunities to flex his comedic muscles as Ferrell. It’s a bit of a gamble — the rapper-turned-actor isn’t exactly known for his range — but it pays off handsomely in the film.
Wahlberg has shown a welcome willingness to make fun of himself in recent years with his cameos on SNL and in Date Night. His performance in The Other Guys is in many ways a straight-up parody of his abrasive expletive-spewing character in The Departed a role for which he earned an Oscar nomination. (This still boggles my mind — I hope Mark is sending weekly gift baskets to both Martin Scorsese and the Academy.) The Other Guys is easily his funniest work since The Happening.
For his part McKay throws in some solidly-crafted action sequences to complement the comedy and even makes a stellar cameo as the leader of Dirty Mike and the Boys a gang of homeless men who terrorize the Priuses of New York City with their all-night orgies for which the interior of Toyota’s trendy hybrid are apparently ideal. But as a storyteller he still struggles mightily with the third act (see Step Brothers a film that all but fell off a cliff). The film loses some of its momentum in the second half mainly because it must get down to the business of resolving its nebulous plot which centers around the corrupt dealings of a hedge-fund charlatan (Steve Coogan) and some improperly filled-out scaffolding permits. But resolution issues notwithstanding The Other Guys still marks a solid upgrade over Step Brothers in the McKay-Ferrell pantheon and is arguably their best collaboration since Anchorman.