The Other Guys Review
Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell are not the most obvious screen pairing you could conjure up. Generally sticking to the action and comedy genres respectively, their paths have yet to cross on the big screen - until now that is. Suitably the film to do this is an action comedy (handy that) from director Adam McKay. Having already established a successful comedy partnership with Will Ferrell with films such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights, it’s clear director and star are hoping that throwing Wahlberg and a healthy dose of explosions and gun fights into the equation will only serve to enhance that mix.
To explain the film’s title, Ferrell and Wahlberg play New York detectives Gamble and Hoitz. The central notion being that these are not your case-solving, action-hungry, quip-delivering cops of big action movies – those come in the form of department alpha males Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Gamble and Hoitz are The Other Guys. They're the guys in the background - the cops who answer the phones, do the paperwork and generally pick up the slack left behind whilst Jackson and Johnson cut a path of mayhem and destruction through New York City.
Now for the film to have a premise this situation obviously cannot last forever. Although Wahlberg’s character is considered a joke throughout the force (for accidently shooting baseball star Derek Jeter no less) and Ferrell’s desk-bound, bean-counter of a detective is similarly shunned, the sudden departure of Jackson and Johnson from active duty leaves a big hole within the department that needs to be filled. So step forward our two protagonists as they become involved in a case of robbery, kidnap, financial embezzlement and, er, scaffolding permits.
Now if anything has been missed from that breakdown of the case it stems from the film's main problem: The plot is basically nonsense. Something to do with Steve Coogan’s billionaire CEO trying to cover his company’s losses, which somehow mixes in an evil special forces team and plenty of disgruntled investors (armed with machine guns and the odd helicopter). To be honest it’s a confusing mess and certainly not engaging enough to encourage you to pay more attention. You could argue that McKay’s Anchorman was also decidedly light on narrative and worked. The reason is no one makes films about battling news teams. We all know cop films too well – their conventions and logic – and we expect a decent story to hold it together. Just because we're in the realm of comedy offers no excuse.
So what of Ferrell and Wahlberg? That is surely the reason the majority of people will see this film, right? Aren’t both talented a-list stars capable of elevating any material given to them? Well, not in this instance. Ferrell is fine in the role of the pencil-pushing detective and does supply a few good laughs. However he never really pushes himself beyond what we have come to expect from him. Plenty of shouting and over-emoting will please his fans but it’s only during the latter parts of the picture, when his mysterious past is revealed, that he raises his game and delivers something a little different. Wahlberg on the other hand is a very different affair. Straying into the unfamiliar ground of comedy (Date Night excluded) he is at times inspired and at others, well, just plain annoying! His character never really seems to settle – one moment he's whinging and incompetent; the next angry and ruthlessly efficient in hand to hand combat. It makes for an awkward chemistry between the two leads, as instead of developing naturally through the story, their relationship seems to periodically shift from good to bad seemingly based on what was deemed funny per scene. That said, in spite of these problems there are enough small glimpses to suggest that with more assured direction and better writing, Wahlberg and comedy could be a good match.
So what works? There are some good jokes and a few killer lines littered throughout the script -“It’s literally like driving round in a vagina,” deadpans Wahlberg after getting into Ferrell’s Toyota Prius – just not as many hit the mark as they should. Fittingly enough where The Other Guys does impress is with the other guys – namely the supporting cast. Michael Keaton is brilliant as the department captain who sub-consciously keeps working TLC song lyrics into his conversation and Eva Mendes is fun as Ferrell’s drop-dead gorgeous “plain” wife. Praise too for Jackson and Johnson, who with plenty of brawn, bravado and tongues firmly in cheeks, quickly manage to encapsulate all those clichéd action heroes we’re so used to seeing throw villainous English character-actors to their timely deaths. It’s a little telling that a film about these two charismatic characters seems more appealing than the one we ended up with.
Those just looking for an entertaining way to spend two hours will find The Other Guys is a perfectly passable way to do so. Anyone looking for anything more than this is definitely going be disappointed. It’s seems like an obvious summary, but die-hard fans of Will Ferrell will find much more to enjoy than the average viewer. Given it's weak plot and lacking the character comedy of Talladega Nights or the sheer silly inventiveness of Anchorman, The Other Guys is a below par affair that, while raising a few laughs along the way, never really fires on all cylinders.