Remember Cop Out? Yeah, I didn’t think so. That’s okay, though. Kevin Smith’s movie was pretty much a consistently flat-line of comedy that served up more eye-rolling than a frequently unfunny Three Stooges short. I only mention Cop Out because where Smith fumbled with the buddy cop formula, Adam McKay, with his latest film, scored first down. If you are in the mood for some down-right buddy cop silliness then The Other Guys has your back.
Operating like an episode of Fox’s The Good Guys (What’s that? You mean to say you aren’t watching the funniest cop series on television? Well, get in the know!!!!), McKay’s latest film takes situations and characters that are normally unamusing, like having a crooked financial advisor (irreverently played by Steve Coogan) serve as the film’s villain in a somewhat tolerable manner, and works his champion comedic go-to man, Will Ferrell, into a manic sweat as the script tries to turn the unfunny seriousness of our country’s economic downturn into a laughing matter. And, mostly, it works.
Mark Wahlberg and Ferrell play riotously mismatched cops in a department that mostly hates them because they are idiots. Hoitz (Wahlberg) and Gamble (Ferrel) successfully work each other’s nerves until they both become unhinged much to the audience’s delight as they work to become as successful as their idols on the force, super-duper cops Danson (Dwayne Johnson) and Highsmith (Samuel Jackson). Spoofing much of the buddy cop formula, The Other Guys find themselves with an opportunity to work as efficiently as their idols once the dynamic duo is humorously “disposed” of. Desiring to be the big time "hot shots", Wahlberg and Ferrell compete against Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr. to fill the vacancy; they just need to be the first to solve the big case…while driving around New York City in a supremely powerless Prius.
The film works best when it sends up the conventions of the genre we expect. Wahlberg and Ferrell don’t walk away from explosions; they get criminally trashed by them, writhing around on concrete completely in pain. And it’s funny. It’s funny to hear Ferrell adlib about breast-feeding and how Little River Band is the best type of music to get energized by. It’s also funny to hear Ferrell’s high-pitched screaming as he attacks their target in the ‘Good cop/Bad cop’ role-playing that he mistakes as ‘Bad cop/Bad cop’. The man is seriously an unending ball of funny – even if it is stupid; however, Wahlberg, as the semi-straight man and former “hot shot” of the force, is not comedically inclined (well, besides his acting in The Happening) and it shows a bit too uncomfortably in a couple of scenes. He’s mostly the reactionary role in their uneven equation. Try as he may, Ferrell can’t quite carry the funny for two men. What’s missing in their partnership is a true partner: John C. Reilly. Seriously, where is he? This material begs for his expertise and I guarantee that, had he been cast, The Other Guys would have played a hell of a lot better than it currently does.
Where The Other Guys, written by McKay and Chris Henchy, falters in momentum and overall quality is when it begins to succumb to the dumbass traps of the buddy cop genre with extended chase sequences and other conventions. Obviously, these cops weren’t smart enough to avoid the pratfalls they sought to take down as they work to fill their heroes’ shoes. Seriously, about halfway through the picture – after one shootout too many – the film takes a somewhat unfunny nosedive and begins to buckle toward the cop movie conventions, with even BIGGER explosions, instead of making fun of them. Yet, silly is as silly does and it is hard to discredit something that works so hard to be…dumb fun. And when Michael Keaton shows up as Police Captain Gene Mauch (who moonlights as a manager at ‘Bed, Bath & Design’), the stereotypes and conventions The Other Guys can’t quiet give up are pretty much forgiven.
Breaking down this work of satire, one can see where the biggest problems lie as it serves the buddy cop formula with some modern day maliciousness. Mindless urban destruction? Check that off. Offensive jokes? Yes, thanks to Ferrell who never faulters (even in his last collaboration with McKay, The Land of the Lost). Consistently satirical material? Not so much. Great buddy cop team? Well, with Wahlburg finding himself outwitted by the improvisations of Ferrell, their team-up could have been better. And - as much as I love comedy - I guess that’s the ultimate truth about McKay and Ferrell’s fourth film together: as good as it started out, it could have finished in better standing.
Yet, Cop Out it isn’t and I guess that’s something to cheer about.
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