The buddy cop comedy sub-genre has been limping about Hollywood as if shot in the leg from an awry 9mm bullet. Now it’s been found by the duo of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the pair behind “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights” and “Step Brothers,” whose brand of contemporary idiot humor has been steadily met with compounding criticism the last few years. But the combination of these two seemingly stale styles works somehow in “The Other Guys,” even if it’s not a total revitalization for either party.
Ferrell’s humor has led to the comedic veteran being liked or loathed in most peoples’ opinions. Detective Allen Gamble borrows a bit more from the Ron Burgundy character profile that made Ferrell a household name in 2004 only much more modest. Both rely on the childlike innocence or unawareness that Ferrell handles best. Consider his most recent exploits, “The Other Guys” is refreshing.
Pairing him with someone unpredictable in Mark Wahlberg was also a wise move. Wahlberg is the Type A of the twosome: angry, impulsive and bordering on wackjob. He operates on one level while Ferrell bounces up and down, occasionally going to his level and sometimes understating it nicely. It’s a much more effective co-star than John C. Reilly, who offers too much of the same style as Ferrell, which in “Talladega Nights” and “Step Brothers” caused Ferrell to be the Type A guy.
The two play detectives Gamble and Terry Hoitz, two NYPD desk jockeys who are, of course, totally mismatched. Gamble was promoted from accounting and Hoitz demoted from security. When Hoitz smells a big case surrounding a Bernie Madoff-like investor (Steve Coogan) that might put him back in the action where he feels he belongs, he forces the oblivious Gamble to step in with him.
Fitted with even so much as jazz saxophone transition music, “The Other Guys” is a spoof at heart. Instead of the cheesy explosion that the pair survives in the nick of time, these guys get knocked off their feet and writhe on the ground in pain, with Ferrell shouting about blisters on his hands and the misleading nature of movie explosions. This additional “objective” of needing the film to serve as a spoof forces a bit more creativity out of McKay and Ferrell’s writing. The usual improvised shenanigans wouldn’t cut it here.
The supporting cast in “Other Guys” is much more cameo-like than in past McKay/Ferrell movies. Rather than get wrapped up in giving other characters adequate screen time, the focus stays on Allen and Terry and their chemistry. Although it undercuts characters such as Eva Mendes as Allen’s hot wife and Michael Keaton in a surprising but welcome comedic role as the police captain, it focuses the humor better and doesn’t let it get to eye-rolling levels too often, at least as far as dumb characters are concerned.
“The Other Guys” definitely starts out stronger than it finishes. The biggest laughs are at the beginning and fade at the end as happens all too often in comedies that worry too much about resolving an uninteresting plot at the end of the film while also burning out recurring jokes (such as the Toyota Prius that Allen drives having a prominent place in the film).
It’s far from a Ferrell/McKay renaissance and it certainly won’t leave you clamoring for more twists on the buddy cop comedy, but the two sides find a chemistry together that however brief, refreshes in a year light on good laughs.
The Other Guys
Directed by Adam McKay
Written by Adam McKay, Will Ferrell
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton