Remember when Will Ferrell was a big deal? It wasn’t so long ago that you couldn’t swing the proverbial feline without hitting one of his movies. Unfortunately, for every Anchorman (2004) there’s a Semi-Pro (2008) and audiences have become extremely cautious, albeit unjustly. Why? It isn’t that he lost his gift, just the plot; with a glut of star driven vehicles behind him whose plots feature as little more than a foot note, The Other Guys then may be seen as an attempt to put things right. And for the most part, it succeeds.
Not that you should be expecting anything less than the highest of high concept comedy. It sticks rigidly to the dogmatic buddy/cop formula and what plotting there is actually appears convoluted, rearing its head only on occasion to sit contritely alongside the fun. Still, what stops this from becoming another Ferrell talent show is the decision to ground him in a pairing. Arguably Ferrell is in the driving seat, but this being a buddy flick guarantees he never hogs the limelight. The casting of Wahlberg is a strange one and perhaps isn’t quite the genius idea that it surely looked on paper. His Mel Gibson-in-Lethal Weapon (1987)-inspired caricature (which is done far better by Emilio Estevez in Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)) initially shows promise – such as a recurring preoccupation with drug-related crimes – but it doesn’t take long before he becomes the obligatory straight-man. That being said, it is at least refreshing to see him take on a role that shows he can take a joke. Meanwhile, Steve Coogan and Michael Keaton provide additional laughs to pad out the rather humdrum scenery, although the exact purpose of Eva Mendez (beyond setting up a few punchlines) remains to me a mystery.
Evidently director Adam Mckay has a fondness for quirky comedy and here he leaves his indelible mark across every inch of celluloid. Straddling a delicate balance between Step Brothers (2008) (hilarious) and Talladega Nights (2006) (not so hilarious), he demonstrates to the generic Hangover (2009) generation how it’s really done. Coming from the Apatow school of filmmaking, Mckay trades in the traditionally accepted set-up & punchline routine for something more free flowing and altogether harder to classify. He is undoubtedly an auteur of comedy, staging brilliantly bizarre scenarios – a scene in which a whispered argument followed by a silent brawl occur during a wake is a highlight, and the way in which he subverts and mocks film conventions is almost Zucker-esque.
It isn’t a polished picture and certainly the second half suffers from having drastically fewer jokes than the first, but as comedies go you could do a lot worse.
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Pineapple Express (2008) ****
Starsky & Hutch (2004) ****
Step Brothers (2008) ****