The good news: Will Ferrell is back, and The Other Guys is the funniest film of the summer. The bad news: Well, let’s be honest — the competition hasn’t exactly set the bar sky high.
The fourth collaboration between the actor and writer-director Adam McKay isn’t remotely in the same league as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy or Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. At the same time, it’s a completely different sort of experiment.
Those films were broad parodies stuffed with supporting comic talent. The Other Guys dials down the parody — it’s not so much a spoof of buddy-cop action movies as an offbeat variation on one — and depends almost entirely on Ferrell for its laughs.
He stars as Allen Gamble, a desk-bound NYPD detective who’s more than content to be bound to his desk. Pushing paper is his idea of action. As the genre requires, however, he’s been assigned a mismatched partner in crime fighting, a loose cannon who hankers for more “Starsky and Hutch”-y stuff.
That would be detective Terry Hoitz, a frustrated fireplug played by Mark Wahlberg in a bit of casting against type that has its pluses and minuses, but contributes more than enough freak factor to justify the roll of the dice.
The high points of any given Ferrell film, of course, are more often than not products of its cast’s prodigious gifts for improvisation. Wahlberg can’t fill the shoes of Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Chris Parnell, David Koechner or John C. Reilly (“I like to think of Jesus as a mischievous badger”). But, when things get weird, he proves surprisingly adept at going with the flow. In fact, Wahlberg is integral to a handful of scenes destined to become DVD classics.
The plot has Ferrell’s character pursuing an issue of missing scaffolding permits, until he stumbles on a Bernie Madoff-level investment scam masterminded by a Wall Street hustler (Steve Coogan). The financier has a private army of security staff and countless, heavily armed enemies from the four corners of the globe. So, it isn’t long before Ferrell and Wahlberg find themselves caught in the crossfire and the picture shifts into let’s-have-fun-with-’80s-action-movies mode.
And what follows is fun. Both the mean-street action sequences and the surreal repartee are more blissfully, brilliantly dumb than anything we’ve seen on screen this season. Gamble rolls in a Prius, prompting Hoitz to snark, “I feel like we’re driving around inside a giant vagina.” When bad guys blast away at them from above, Ferrell deadpans, “It just doesn’t seem fair they have a helicopter.” The screwiest and most memorable moment between the two cops involves a testosterone-fueled exchange concerning the capacity of a pack of tuna to hunt down and devour a pride of lions. You had to be there.
And I encourage you to. The Other Guys — don’t get me wrong — is a mixed bag. It’s on the long side, and not all of its gags hit their mark. When all is said and done, though, McKay has accomplished something of comic consequence. He’s brought Will Ferrell back to life. It’s been way too long since his patter and persona have proved such lethal weapons.