(by Dustin Putman
Give credit where credit is due: "The Other Guys" is a hell of a lot more tolerable than the recent, similar, and altogether execrable "Cop Out." For one, writer-director Adam McKay (2008's "Step Brothers") and co-writer Chris Henchy realize they are making a comedy and, in turn, actually come up with funny things for the lead actors to say and do. One senses there was also a lot of ad-libbing on the set, and with Will Ferrell (2009's "Land of the Lost") and a surprisingly inspired Mark Wahlberg (2010's "Date Night") leading the way that's not such a bad thing. In comparison, "Cop Out" stars Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis mostly looked constipated—clearly a side effect from the hopelessly lame material and Kevin Smith's lead-footed direction. If the one-liners and sight gags arrive at a fairly consistent rate for the first seventy-five minutes of "The Other Guys," then the movie's ultimate downfall is its lack of anything else to cling to, care about, or get involved in. Overplotted and longwinded, the picture starts strong but steadily wears out its welcome. Article continues below
P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson) are the hotshot stars of the NYPD, but when their highfalutin ways get the best of them and they are put out of commission, in-office button-pusher Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) sees it as his way to prove he's got what it takes to be out on the streets again (this privilege was snatched from him after an altercation with Derek Jeter). Terry can barely stand fellow office worker Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell), himself happy to be behind a desk, but a need for a partner pairs these two unlikely cops together as they set out to investigate the crooked dealings of investment banker David Ershon (Steve Coogan).
The ins and outs of David Ershon's thieving schemes—and, invariably, the dastardly deeds of the even bigger-wigs hiding behind the curtain—are a jumble; either the script, on this account, is incomprehensible, or it just seems that way because the viewer isn't interested enough to be bothered in following it. When the narrative really focuses on the police investigation at hand, "The Other Guys" sinks like a boulder and, by the end, almost turns into a straight action film. At 107 minutes, the film is too slight to withstand such a length and becomes more than tedious by the climax. This third-act stumble is ultimately big enough to hinder the good will set up at the onset.
For a long time, though, "The Other Guys" comes off as one of the funnier releases this year. Granted, that's not a huge feat, but there is a quick-wittedness to its decidedly rapid-fire stream of jokes. An early scene where a gaggle of reporters introduce themselves as being from "New York Observer...Online" and "TMZ...print" is both purposefully ridiculous and a worthy comment on today's flood of news sources. From a sequence where Terry and Allen end up driving around in a cocaine-covered car (a bad guy takes a sniff as he passes by), to a set-piece where the two of them interview a wealthy psycho couple and Terry is scolded for getting the lady's name wrong ("It's Christinith!"), to the shockingly graphic, hilariously twisted depiction of Highsmith's and Danson's sticky ends cut perfectly to The Foo Fighter's "My Hero," the film keeps up its momentum for longer than usual solely because of how amusing and uninhibited it is. For once, there is also an authentic reaction to people being catapulted back after an explosion happens in front of them (Allen bemoans how much more painful it is than the movies always portray).
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg definitely feel like an odd couple, and that's what makes them kind of perfect for their broad roles of, respectively, Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz. Ferrell plays Allen as a good-spirited fellow with either bad eyes or a devilish sense of humor, constantly putting down his absolutely gorgeous wife, Sheila (Eva Mendes), by describing her as "a big, old broad who likes to wield it" and comparing her dressy attire to that of a hobo's. He also, for the record, has a mean love for the Little River Band (cue their hit song "Reminiscing" every time they get in Allen's car). For his part, Wahlberg has fun playing temperamental with a humorous slant and fits right in with Ferrell. Perhaps Wahlberg is an untapped comic talent just now getting realized. As doctor and former Knicks cheerleader Sheila, Eva Mendes (2008's "The Spirit") is a standout every time she's on screen, her sweet, oddball relationship with husband Allen seeming truly fresh. It's a shame, then, that Mendes is so underutilized—she only has three major scenes—because more could have certainly been done with her. As main villain David Ershon, Steve Coogan (2008's "Hamlet 2") is given very little to do, his interludes grinding the pacing to a halt. And what, pray tell, is Anne Heche (2004's "Birth") doing in the thankless, humorless, unbilled role of Ershon's co-conspirator?
Provoking smiles, giggles, and a few choice guffaws, "The Other Guys" is akin to a slew of solid "SNL" skits that peter out by the end and don't collectively add up to much. The narrative bogs itself down in corporate swindling business that falls flat, and the protagonists, while amusing, are decidedly wafer-thin (Terry's subplot involving ballerina ex Francine, played by Lindsay Sloane, is an afterthought, only afforded one scene before its ineffectual payoff). There's only so much that can be done when the foundation is unstable, and that's the case here. Taken as individual punchline setups, "The Other Guys" is a buddy cop comedy with aspirations for originality, bogged down in its own derivative excesses. Sure, it'll make you laugh here and there, but it won't make you care.