Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review - The Other Guys

I always enjoy watching Mark Wahlberg more in films where he gets the chance to flex his comedy muscles a little. Taking a look back at the actor's recent work, it's his turns in Date Night, The Departed and I ♥ Huckabees that stand out, rather than his more po-faced work in Max Payne, Shooter, The Lovely Bones or The Happening (OK, I'll admit The Happening did make me laugh). So it's great to see Wahlberg lining up next to Will Ferrell in The Other Guys, the new Adam McKay comedy which delivers a pretty successful gag ratio overall. Wahlberg plays Terry Hoitz, a frustrated cop assigned to desk duty after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter. Hoitz wants to get back out onto the street, but his partner Allen Gamble (Ferrell) is more than happy to stay inside the office, diligently filing reports and toiling away on the police department's accounts.

Instead, all of the crimebusting glory is stolen by star cops Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L Jackson), who are introduced in the film's explosive opening section. Danson and Highsmith are the kind of characters who will happily cause $12 million worth of damage in pursuit of a minor drugs bust, with the pair's macho posturing and self-regard recalling films like Michael Bay's Bad Boys. McKay, Johnson and Jackson clearly have a lot of fun spoofing such action movie excess, but The Other Guys really gets going when these two characters are out of the way (in a priceless fashion) leaving room for, well, the other guys to step up.

The pleasure of McKay's films with Ferrell generally lies in the loosely improvisational feel they possess, and the sense that the movie can spin off on a random comedic tangent at any time. The Other Guys plays it a little straighter than most in terms of narrative, but it still finds room for surreal interludes. Highlights here include a silent brawl at a funeral, Gamble and Hoitz cutting loose for a wild night of drinking and carousing, and a quieter pub scene that sees Gamble continually breaking of the conversation to recite a verse of a gloomy Irish ballad. The film also has a series of running gags that are neatly handled, like the central characters' unfortunate habit of accepting bribes from crooked banker David Ershon (Steve Coogan) or their chief's (Michael Keaton) weird tic of quoting lyrics of TLC songs repeatedly. Another theme that's developed throughout the film is Gamble's improbable attraction to beautiful women, with his wife Sheila being played by Eva Mendes. When Hoitz is introduced to Sheila, Wahlberg plays the reaction beautifully, his expression a mixture of lust, surprise and utter bewilderment.

Wahlberg is great in The Other Guys, with his best moments occurring when Hoitz is at his most exasperated with his partner's behaviour. Ferrell underplays his character's eccentricity nicely, and the pair's contrasting styles spark off each other extremely well. The Others Guys is flat-out hilarious at times, mostly in its first half, but there are periods in the second half of the film when the paper-thin and generally superfluous nature of the plot is exposed. The story has something to do with Coogan's character embezzling billions of dollars (it also has something to do with Anne Heche, who appears in a bizarrely truncated role), but it feels lazily stitched together and the film suffers for it when it needs to build some momentum towards the climax. Still, minor caveats aside, this is by some distance the most enjoyable mainstream comedy of the year, and it's worth sticking around for the closing credits, which offer a Michael Moore-esque edge that's most unexpected.