I take notes as I watch films so that I can remember salient plot points, great effects, and idiotic story twists. During The Other Guys, I wrote down “buddy cop film from hell.” That might well sum up the weird mash-up that is The Other Guys, a movie that can’t decide if it’s a straight-up action film, a satire that skewers the wellworn buddy cop genre, or a daft, sophomoric comedy in the vein of Police Academy.
NYPD super-cops Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson, who has become a parody of himself) and Danson (the ever-likable Dwayne Johnson) overshadow everyone else in their precinct with their ludicrously over-the-top heroics in the line of duty. $12 million in damages to capture criminals with a quarter-pound of marijuana? All in a day’s work.
Meanwhile, Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) is a hotshot detective demoted to desk work for a heinous gaffe that I won’t spoil, partnered with the annoying and cowardly Gamble (Will Ferrell). The Other Guys is rife with cinematic clichés, including another pair of cops that constantly tease them and a precinct captain (Michael Keaton at his comedic best) who moonlights at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
The Other Guys is the product of more than one writer and some of the scenes feel more suited for an episode of Saturday Night Live than a film. Notable in that regard is the first argument between Hoitz and Gamble, where Hoitz threatens that he’s a lion that’s going to swim out to Gamble’s “tuna” and eat him, to which Gamble responds by shattering the entire conceptual image in a scene that goes on far too long. It should have been an outtake.
Gamble is a forensic accountant, boring and colorless, but married to the gorgeous Dr. Sheila Gamble (Eva Mendes) who he constantly refers to as his plain old lady. Hoitz is baffled by this and thinks she’s totally hot. Later we find out that Gamble has a backstory and had a very different personality when he was in college. The flashback sequence and introduction of his alterego Gator is funny even if it’s totally predictable.
I liked the therapy group “Counseling for Cops who Have Fired Their Gun in the Line of Duty” and the dry interchange between the tough-guy cops and therapist Zoe Lister Jones (as herself). The tension between the force needed for effective law enforcement and the peaceful expectations of the community is a path that could be ripe for a more thoughtful satire, but director Adam McKay was clearly not interested in traveling down that road.
There are a lot of cultural and cinematic references in the film too, notably a funny bit about learning to drive aggressively through playing the video game Grand Theft Auto. I’ve long suspected that it was a training ground for stunt drivers …
All too many comedies seem to now be a series of sporadically funny comic situations loosely tied together rather than a genuinely amusing storyline. Perhaps that’s the nature of comic films, but in a film like The Other Guys, where it bounces from sophomoric parody to expensive, well-staged action film and back within the course of a minute or two, the story is ultimately discarded in favor of the laughs. If that works for you, then this could be a pretty entertaining movie.