McGinnis: ‘The Other Guys’ wear out their welcomeWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“The Other Guys” is a movie with some great ideas and almost no clue how to execute them. There are moments of inspiration where it strains against itself to be great, before sinking back down to mediocrity.
At first, the audience I was watching the movie with was laughing loudly and having fun. About halfway through its running time, though, the laughs became few and far between, as it felt like all the comic energy had been wrung out in the first 45 minutes. Now we were just politely waiting for the movie to end. The movie, though, didn’t know how to quit when it was ahead.
The basic premise is tremendous. Two New York cops, played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, are the laughingstock of their precinct. Their days are made up primarily of doing the paperwork of the department’s hero cops, played by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. First things first, Johnson and Jackson are hilarious together. So hilarious, in fact, that maybe it was a mistake to cast them here. Once they depart the picture, a lot of comic energy goes with them, though the sight gag where they meet their end is priceless.
Ferrell is a bookish accountant who is more than happy to stay right at his desk. Wahlberg yearns for action. They’re both fairly inept at what they do, but the sudden departure of the poster boys leaves a vacancy that Wahlberg is desperate to fill, and he drags Ferrell along for the ride.
Ferrell is a wonderful comic actor who often can rise above his material. Here he seems to have decided to deliberately play it low-key and restrained, for the most part, which doesn’t work as well when he’s apparently supposed to be the wacky one. Wahlberg plays his part as more or less the straight man of the pair, but this leaves the chemistry between the two oddly disjointed. They can’t both be Abbott, someone’s gotta be Costello.
The movie was directed by frequent Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay (he directed “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights,” and “Step Brothers”), who apparently decided early on that what this movie was REALLY about was the Wall Street bailouts. The whole crime plot the boys are investigating is a convoluted story about an investment banker (the wonderful Steve Coogan) who is being forced to defraud investors or something.
I guess the movie really wants to think it’s saying something meaningful about corporate greed and so forth, but no one in the audience can possibly care based upon the flimsy story its supposed arguments are attached to. It even presents a series of infographics over the end credits about the bailouts and so forth, like someone accidentally spliced the ending of a Michael Moore documentary on there. The audience I watched with were too busy ankling for the exits to read them.
For most of its running time, “The Other Guys” keeps teasing its audience with funny comic ideas, but then providing no payoffs for any of them. The guys’ boss, played by the criminally underutilized Michael Keaton, works at Bed, Bath and Beyond on the side. Theoretically, that could lead somewhere, but it doesn’t. Ferrell treats his wife as a homely disappointment, when she’s played by the beautiful Eva Mendes. Wahlberg has a blatant crush on her. Neither one of those ideas has a point, either. Heck, even the climax of the whole crime plot ends on a curiously muted note. There’s never a real punch line.
The beginning moments, with Johnson and Jackson gleefully destroying property and recklessly endangering human life, point to something more. There’s a scene where Ferrell and Wahlberg have a building explode right in front of them, then whine about how much it hurt and how it never hurts like that in the movies. Imagine if the film had really focused on the idea of reality vs. the movies, and how these guys were woefully unprepared for life as a real cop. “The Hard Way,” a terrific and underrated comedy with Michael J. Fox and James Woods, explored those themes to tremendous effect.
Here, it’s just another in a long line in ideas that go unrealized. “The Other Guys” feels like a hodge-podge of comic bits tossed at the screen, hoping something will stick. A few of those ideas, if developed more fully, could have been a winning comedy. Here, we just end up with a hit-and-miss affair. And the misses keep piling up the longer it runs.
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.