At its most embryonic state, the movie works because it’s built on the solid, if elementary, foundation of pairing Ferrell with Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg has a deft, underexploited comedic potential that he, his agent, or whoever, has critically ignored. Roles like his in “Boogie Nights” and “I Heart Huckabees” make a case for an actor that should lay off the heavy drama every so often and recoil with something silly. I honestly believe Wahlberg is the best part of the epically awful “Happening,” and that there isn’t an ounce of his performance that isn’t calculated—How anyone could read Shyamalan’s script and not burst out laughing is beyond me.
His pairing with Ferrell is a match made in comedy heaven, and the two play off each other well. Of course, this is a more restrained Ferrell than many may have expected, but it’s a role that suits him following his over-the-top performance in “Step Brothers.” Besides, when released from the shackles of his character—Paper-pushing “fake cop” Allen Gamble—Ferrell’s performance is hit and miss. Exploding into a shrieking rage during a ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ routine gone awry is one of the film’s funniest moments. Revealing his ex-life as a flamboyant pimp? Not so much.
But even with its pecking detractors, “The Other Guys” is never unfunny for long. Once we’ve established our two protagonists—Via a bizarre and amusing lion and tuna metaphor—It is generally fun just to watch them blunder their way through the rest of the movie. Wahlberg’s character is Terry Hoitz, Allen’s partner, and the short-fused catalyst for his first big trip out of the office. Their dynamic warmly satirizes the eighties buddy cop cliché, but more often is a simply a vehicle for short-form character sketches.
If there is a problem with the movie, it’s that the plot is astronomically overcomplicated, neither clever nor compelling. Laughter is usually the only bridge connecting one idea to the next, and the constituent scenes sometimes fail to function as a unit. Worse yet, terrific performers like Steve Coogan are stuffed into straight-man roles, and ought to be espousing humor, not plot.
Regardless, this movie has it where it counts. Its lack of focus may detract slightly from the overall experience, but it only serves to highlight what “The Other Guys” ultimately is—Mindless summer entertainment. My approach to comedy has always been that character is paramount, but when you’re knocking off something like this, the only thing that really matters is its ability to make me laugh. And for the first time in months, I feel like I got my funny bone’s worth.
Ferrell and McKay never pretend to be auteurs of deep or provocative comedy—Jay Roach of “Dinner for Schmucks” didn’t either—But I laughed more. Much more. There’s a reason comedy is called the most subjective genre; a movie like this is dangerous because when you put all your chips on the gags, you’re going all or nothing—Either you’ll find “The Other Guys” funny or you won’t. For me, the film is a return to form for a duo that has disappointed me with their previous two efforts; its no “Anchorman,” but it’s far and away superior to “Talladega Nights” and more consistent than “Step Brothers.”
More importantly, it’s far and away superior to “Dinner for Schmucks” and whatever other marginally amusing film is concurrently playing. In a summer of lackluster comedy, every chortle should be cherished, and “The Other Guys” has them to spare.