Will Ferrell Shines In Laugh-Filled 'Other Guys'

Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg

hide captionClued In: Will Ferrell (left) and Mark Wahlberg play a pair of cops who are thrust into action and must hit the streets in order to solve a case.

Macall Polay/Columbia TriStar

The Other Guys

  • Director: Adam McKay
  • Genre: Comedy, Action/Adventure
  • Running Time: 107 minutes
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence, and some drug material.

With: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan

At capturing the poetry of male obliviousness, Will Ferrell has no peer.

Consider his preening Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, his swaggering yet befuddled racer Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, his golden-locked skater Chazz Michael Michaels in Blades of Glory — child-men who put on macho airs and look more and more like great big babies. In his one-man show, You're Welcome, America, Ferrell portrays George W. Bush as an over-entitled rich boy posing haplessly as a Texas cowboy. Best of all is his infantile 39-year-old Brennan Huff in Step Brothers, which is, for my money, the great American slapstick comedy of the last decade. Along with his director and co-writer Adam McKay, Ferrell created an environment on set in which a lot of gifted, un-self-censoring actors and actresses had license to say and do anything, take after take. The upshot was gorgeously controlled pandemonium.

The latest Ferrell-McKay collaboration is The Other Guys, a buddy-cop comedy, and the bad news is that it isn't in the league of their last few. The good news is that even a second-tier Ferrell-McKay comedy is better than almost anything at the movies.

Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play New York detectives Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz, both in the shadow of hot-dog cops played by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson. The movie opens with Jackson and Johnson on a high-speed chase, jumping in and out of cars and trucks while blowing stuff up and trading one-liners. The problem is there's no visual wit, just expensive mayhem. It looks too much like the action films it's parodying. The Other Guys gets better when Jackson and Johnson leave the picture — on a high — and Gamble and Hoitz try to fill their shoes.

Ferrell's Gamble has tight curly hair and wire-rim specs and is a study in wonkish repression. He's an accountant by training; he never wants to leave his desk. On the other hand, Wahlberg's Hoitz has been confined to his desk after shooting a major sports figure under circumstances I won't spoil. Hoitz wears black leather sports jackets and impugns Gamble's masculinity, finally resorting to animal metaphors.

Eva Mendes, Will Ferrell i i

hide captionDoctor Love: Eva Mendes plays Will Ferrell's wife in the new action-comedy The Other Guys.

Macall Polay/Columbia TriStar
Eva Mendes, Will Ferrell

Doctor Love: Eva Mendes plays Will Ferrell's wife in the new action-comedy The Other Guys.

Macall Polay/Columbia TriStar

The case the pair stumbles into has something to do with Steve Coogan as a high-risk money man who's billions in the red, and Anne Heche — who's seriously underused — as the head of a multinational conglomerate at risk of collapse. The plotting is loose, but the Wall Street setting isn't arbitrary. Over the closing credits are graphs and captions: The ratio of CEO salaries to workers' salaries over the last few decades; the amount of bonus money given to executives at companies taking bailouts. I wish instead of another buddy cop movie they'd made a comedy about a money manager or broker.

What saves The Other Guys is that Ferrell and McKay let no scene go until they've turned its apparent premise inside-out. The sheer accumulation of absurdities is dizzying. Ferrell's Gamble turns out to have a complicated back-story: He's married to a smoking-hot doctor played by Eva Mendes; he's trying to be a wonk to keep the violent pimp inside him at bay. Opposite Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg doesn't so much send up his own peculiar combination of thuggishness and sweetness as play it absolutely straight, no winking — and he's hilarious.

I look back over my notes on the movie and find myself choking with laughter. The Prius. Dirty Mike and his homeless orgies. Good cop-bad cop. Jersey Boys. Sarcastic ballet. Christinth. You don't know what I'm talking about but if you see The Other Guys, those words will have you doubled over too.

What makes Will Ferrell such a treasure is that for all the lowbrow gags, he doesn't satirize stupidity. He satirizes fear — the lengths to which men will go to keep from looking vulnerable. I'm excited by what might come down the road. A great business comedy? A great black comedy of war, like Duck Soup? Aim high, Will — and get low.

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