(Soundbite of music)
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Will Ferrell stars in "The Other Guys," a new comedy directed and co-written by his longtime collaborator, Adam McKay. It's a spoof of the buddy-action-cop movie, and co-stars Mark Wahlberg as his mismatched partner.
Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: 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.
(Soundbite of movie, "The Other Guys")
Mr. MARK WAHLBERG (Actor): (as Terry Hoitz) I don't like you. I think you're a fake cop. If we were in the wild, I would attack you. If I were a lion and you were a tuna, I would swim out in the middle of the ocean and eat you.
Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Allen Gamble) Okay. First off, a lion swimming in the ocean? Lions don't like water. If you'd placed it near a river or some sort of freshwater source, that makes sense. But you find yourself in the ocean, 20-foot wave, I'm assuming it's off the coast of South Africa, coming up against a full-grown, 800-pound tuna, with his 20 or 30 friends, you lose that battle. You lose that battle nine times out of 10. Did that go the way you thought it was going to go?
Mr. WAHLBERG: Nope.
(Soundbite of screaming)
EDELSTEIN: That's coffee being dumped all over Ferrell's shirt.
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.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. And you can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.