Classic comedic conventions commandeered by the unique nuttiness that is Will Ferrell make director-writer Adam McKay’s “The Other Guys” a bona fide laugh fest. Spanning the spectrum of shtick from slapstick to heady juxtaposition, this ceaselessly rambunctious send-up of cop shows cajoles you into its mad modus operandi.
Will Ferrell as Allen Gamble and Mark Wahlberg as Terry Hoitz are “The Other Guys,” desk-jockeying partners down at the precinct who look on from the sidelines while their illustrious betters glom all the glory. That’s fine with Allen, who prefers the accounting end of police work. But not so for Terry, a seething mass of pent-up, career discontent.
Making it worse, the drab assignment has come of his own doing. There isn’t a soul in the Big Apple who doesn’t know it was Hoitz who mistakenly took Derek Jeter for an interloper in a Yankee Stadium tunnel and shot him in the leg. His every waking thought is about getting out, mixing it up with the bad guys and redeeming himself.
Thus it’s highly unlikely that the passively inclined partner he incessantly disparages will prove a path to his sleuthing salvation. But then this is farce, where the playing field is often delightfully evened by the muse of sentimentality and dreams. If tramps can become kings and wallflowers princesses, what’s another heroic gumshoe?
Of course, Terry initially denigrates all the hard research Allen has been putting into a financial mogul’s neglect to take out the proper scaffolding applications. But when it proves the smoke that could lead to a potentially deadly inferno of corporate fraud, he and Allen are soon on their bumbling, crazy way, doing the derring-do without a clue.
They are the odd couple of detective work. Allen, serene and able to see the good in almost everyone, is full of surprises. Always raging, Terry is angered even more when he discovers the inner Allen after being invited to his home and meeting the wife. Gradually, between the guffaws, we get still more chortles as their back stories are recounted.
Unfortunately, there is an often disjointed feel to director McKay’s free-for-all, as if any one of the story’s raucous vignettes might tumble off the tentative high wire on which it recklessly scurries. Credit Ferrell and Wahlberg’s likeable caricatures and some very screwy occurrences for keeping the plot afloat. Good supporting performances help, too.
Particularly effective in joining Ferrell to play opposite Wahlberg’s flummoxed, decently portrayed straight man, Michael Keaton is precinct captain Gene Mauch, who moonlights as a manager at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Like Mr. Ferrell, Keaton is an unflappable master of the understated, his complacence in outrageous circumstances adding to the absurdity.
However, the undisputed top banana is Ferrell. Reprising his unlikely champion in yet another permutation, the familiar, wacky contradictions are in full attendance. But while we’ve seen this drill before, we still can’t help feel joy and minor amazement as the sterner stuff our Walter Mitty is made of hoists up the standard for the average Joe.
Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton perfected the wishful metamorphosis in the early part of the last century. But although interpreting it for today’s sensibilities, Will Ferrell manages to maintain the vital humanism that makes the cliché so uplifting. Even those of us who aren’t living lives of quiet desperation like a vicarious thrill now and then.
Wahlberg’s would-be super cop as both built-in detractor and witness to Allen’s heretofore hidden talents mirrors our amused disbelief. Not that any of it actually makes their crime-busting any easier. They dither and fumble all the same, slipping and sliding through peril and threat, more often than not surviving solely by fool’s luck.
Naturally, they’re working the case sans departmental blessing. By the time they really get their wheels spinning in place, the captain has busted them. Terry is supposed to be doing traffic patrol, and Allen has had his police revolver replaced with a wooden replica…and not even a good one at that. Meanwhile, the swindlers are doing their worst.
To complicate matters, Allen and his lady have a tiff. She heads for Mom’s. But while Eva Mendes as beauteous wife Sheila plays into the big gag nicely, the real treat is Viola Harris as Mama Ramos. The entrusted go-between as Allen and Sheila try to both mend fences and outsmart the villains, her delivery of increasingly bawdy missives is priceless.
But if you parse its elements, it’s apparent that director McKay’s madcap lampoon of the buddy-buddy/cop genre is greater than the sum of its parts. Which may be attributed to the lunatical conviviality created and just sheer chance. But whatever it is, once swept up in the laugh contagion, we ask, who needs heroes when we’ve got “The Other Guys?”
“The Other Guys,” rated PG-13, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Adam McKay and stars Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg and Michael Keaton. Running time: 107 minutes
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