Rating: PG-13, for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material
Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Theater: Southwind Twelve, 3433 Iowa
If “The Other Guys” is Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay’s attempt to educate the public about the evils and abuses of Wall Street, they sure picked a roundabout way to do it.
The fourth teaming of this comedy pair (following “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights” and “Step Brothers”) finds the duo in similar comedic territory. Nobody exploits Ferrell’s improvisational style better than McKay, who relies on the kind of obscure one-liners that Ferrell is known for, even if they work against any semblance of a cohesive story.
“The Other Guys” starts out strong, with Ice-T narrating in an ironic street-wise New York drawl. He introduces two of the biggest tough-guy action clichés ever, a wise-cracking, cocky pair of cops named Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) who eat danger for dinner.
To put it plainly, however: This is not their story.
Instead, this absurd comedy focuses on pencil-pushing detective Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and his disgraced partner Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg). Ferrell is doing a slightly different variation of the man-child character he has become synonymous with, so when Terry meets Allen’s unusually hot wife (Eva Mendes), the movie looks like it will turn enough conventions on their ears to make a formidable dent in the Ferrell/McKay comedy landscape. (Along with the script’s co-writer Chris Henchy, McKay and Ferrell own the Internet comedy dynasty Funny or Die.com.)
About halfway through the film, however, “The Other Guys” just runs out of steam. I guess you could say the plot gets in the way. Steve Coogan — criminally underused again — plays a white-collar bigshot who Allen stumbles upon from a thorough investigation of loads of boring paperwork. Of course, the audience knows he’s on to something bigger.
While we wait for Allen and Terry to figure it out, there are tons of other subplots (including Michael Keaton as a police captain who moonlights as a manager at a Bed, Bath & Beyond — further solidifying the movie’s anger at the financial powers-that-be) that randomly pop in and out. The mystery really isn’t much of one, so each scene exists as merely a platform for some of that signature absurdist improvisational humor.
In that vein, there are some great moments where Wahlberg and Ferrell find that chemistry and click. But with both actors playing goofy, it seems like they are both fighting for attention. (Is Wahlberg doing an impression of Andy Samberg’s “Saturday Night Live” Wahlberg impression on purpose?)
In addition, when a film relies on non-sequiturs and gags as much as “The Other Guys” does (and “Anchorman” for that matter), the jokes have to fire off in rapid succession and land with a bull’s-eye (see “The Naked Gun”). That doesn’t really happen here.
To its credit, at least two scenes in “The Other Guys” are uproarious and pulled off with a creative knack: one involving a macho attempt at foiling a bank robbery by Danson and Highsmith; the other a slo-mo freeze-frame shot of Allen and Terry living it up at a local bar.
But these inspired moments also point out how uninspired much of the rest of the movie is. The action scenes are staged awkwardly and are difficult to follow, the actors seem like they are just buying time until the next zinger lands, the ending doesn’t ratchet the stakes up at all, and the political commentary falls flat.
During the movie’s credits, McKay places a spiffy 3D animation of a series of charts (scored to Rage Against the Machine) that illustrate how badly the financial “haves” have exploited the “have-nots” in the last decade. Following a sporadically funny movie that skirts the edges of these issues but maintains no focus whatsoever, it’s certainly incongruous.
On its own terms, the credit sequence would make a great short film, but after watching “The Other Guys,” it just makes me wish the film could support it more effectively.