' ' Cinema Romantico: The Other Guys

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Other Guys

There comes a point when our protagonists, Detectives Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), are sitting in the New York night, along the water, gazing at the illuminated Manhattan skyline, having a serious talk, the whole situation soothed by saxophone, and the audience realizes Mel Gibson's Riggs and Danny Glover's Murtaugh could be inserted and this scene would be exactly the same. And this is what makes it hilarious. Except then these bums, these bums who have been referenced earlier, these bums who stole Gamble's car and performed, uh, unpleasant misdeeds in it turn up and express their desire to once again perform unpleasant misdeeds in Gamble's car and the whole scene blunders to a groaning halt. It is "The Other Guys", written and directed by Adam McKay, in capsule. A movie waging war with itself. A spot-on spoof of a police procedural and a spotty sketch comedy.

The film opens as a spot-on spoof with the requisite car chase scene as the traditional bad ass, one liner spewing movie cops Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) thwart some bad guys, complete with all kinds of shaky-cam, by, amongst other things, uniquely employing the service of a bus and brushing off the exorbitant property damage. But "The Other Guys", as its title implies, is not about them, it is about Gamble and Hoitz, who do Highsmith and Danson's paperwork, and have both ended up as laughed-at desk jockeys on account of sordid Events In The Past (one of which is funny, one of which is funny in theory).

Ferrell makes like Charles Martin Smith in "The Untouchables" by using scaffolding permits as the launch pad to uncovering the nefarious Wall Street scheme of high roller David Ershon (Steve Coogan, underwhelming), though the logistics and intricacies of this dastardly plot are never the point so much as making room for Ferrell - especially Ferrell - and Wahlberg to riff.

Ferrell's Gamble is given an impossibly gorgeous wife named Sheila (Eva Mendes) and an impossibly gorgeous, unhinged ex (Natalie Zea, who, by the way, tore it up last spring on FX's "Justified" in an Emmy worthy performance that will, of course, go un-Emmyed) and Wahlberg's Hoitz is mystified by all this, understandably, while he also finds himself pining for the wife that got away and this wealth of underdeveloped side material keeps snagging the movie and preventing it from really being a sly, hard-hitting send-up.

Wahlberg does, however, zealously throw himself into his role - "I'm a peacock! You gotta let me fly!" - and Michael Keaton as the pair's beleaugered boss who works a side job and unwittingly quotes T-Boz, Chilli and Left Eye is such a terrific actor that he makes duck confit with rotten goose but Ferrell, on the other hand, is, well, Will Ferrell. There are certainly times when he truly inhabits Detective Allen Gamble but then in almost every sequence something happens and you can sense the improvisation taking over and the camera rolling and rolling and Ferrell firing off assorted one-liners and can't the editor see what is happening here? Who else remembers when Javier Bardem won his SAG Award and thanked the Coen Brothers for "choosing the good takes instead of the ones where I really sucked"? One cannot help but wonder if somewhere on the cutting room floor is a more streamlined film, an 80's cop flick about The Other Guys, a more restrained Detective Allen Gamble, a paperwork maestro as played by Will Ferrell rather than Will Ferrell playing a paperwork maestro.

In the Entertainment Weekly summer movie preview issue Adam McKay said this: "When you do a comedy, it does no good to reference comedies. You want to treat it like a drama 80 percent of the way. Then, at the last 20 percent, you f--- it up." You can say it, Adam, but you have to understand it, as in why does "The Other Guys" keep referencing other Will Ferrell comedies?


Wretched Genius said...

Appropriately enough, the lead bum in that scene was Adam McKay himself.

Nick Prigge said...

Woooooooah. That is just a whole deeper level of irony than I realized.

My Other Brother Daryl said...

Having watched this movie with Cinema Romantico himself, I can say that I was just as disappointed. It's as though this movie is a litany of could-have-beens of comedy. There were so many setups with so few payouts. Michael Keaton deserved better.