Reeling It In: This comedy really tries hard

Posted: Thursday, August 12, 2010

There's a scene early in this week's cop comedy, "The Other Guys," where Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg engage in an extended and serious argument over who would win in a battle between a school of tuna and pride of lions. I was laughing so hard I nearly fell out of my seat. Can you remember the last time you laughed that hard at a movie? Neither can I.

It's a little unfortunate that director Adam McKay, who also brought us "Anchorman," "Talledega Nights," and "Step Brothers," chose to put the scene so early in the film because it's definitely the high note. That's not to say that the rest of the movie doesn't try its best to keep up, however. "The Other Guys" is action-packed and hilarious, and almost completely erased the horrible taste that "Step Brothers" left in my mouth.

Ferrell plays straight-laced detective Allen Gamble, recently transferred to Robbery/Homicide from the exciting Forensic Accounting division. Gamble loves paperwork and the mundane, day-to-day bureaucratic grind that drives most cops insane. Speaking of being driven insane, Gamble's depressed partner Terry, played by Mark Wahlberg, is just about to go off the deep end. Terry's career is in the toilet after a high-profile mishap that I won't spoil here. He longs for action and excitement, but instead he's stuck with the most chipper, and least aggressive detective on the force.

Making matters worse is having to watch the high-profile exploits of the department's two super-cops, two brilliant, self-mocking cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. But, while it might not be sexy, Gamble's got a case of his own brewing, that, wouldn't you know it, is going to dwarf any other investigations pending. Scaffolding permits. That's right, some bigwig forgot to register for scaffolding permits and it's up to Allen and Terry to bring the bad guys to justice.

What a movie like "The Other Guys" has going for it is all wrapped up in the characters. Not unlike "Date Night," the story is pretty simple, and somewhat preposterous, but Ferrell and Wahlberg push through to the end with pure comedic charisma. Will Ferrell is spot-on in the role of the uptight, oblivious nerd, his manic side barely contained by a nearly impenetrable wall of positivity. Writer/director McKay, who tunes Ferrell's roles to the actor's exact rhythm, wisely includes scenes where these carefully constructed exteriors finally crumble, such as the point where Ricky Bobby runs naked around the racetrack praying to Tom Cruise to put out his non-existent flames, or Ron Burgundy's infamous "glass case of emotion" rant. "The Other Guys" gives us a similar scene, teased by the trailer, where Allen freaks out on a suspect, destroying his office and pushing aside an already aggressive Terry. "I thought you said 'Bad Cop, Bad Cop,'" Allen apologizes later.

Mark Wahlberg, on the other hand, is not typically known for his comedic prowess. This film should put to rest any fears that the intense actor can't handle humor. Terry, with his incredible frustration, is a perfect match for the chirpy, sunny Allen. His role in the film is that of the straight man, but Wahlberg manages to create a character almost as funny as that of his famous co-star, and at least twice as nuanced. In addition to the leads, "Guys" boasts a talented group of supporting players, including Eva Mendes, Steve Coogan, and a welcome appearance by Michael Keaton as the captain.

My only real complaint was minor -- the film felt a little choppy in places. Scenes occasionally felt as though they existed only for their comedic value rather than occupying a purposeful or logical place in the storyline. As far as technical merit goes, "Talledega Nights" and "Anchorman" show more finesse. I bring up these films because they, in addition to "Step Brothers," are the feature length collaborations between Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, writing partners and friends who have collaborated on many other short, direct-to-web projects through their online presence I typically like their humor, and can usually watch Ferrell in anything, but the one exception has been "Step Brothers," a movie many people love, but that I loathed. In fact, "Step Brothers" made my list of the worst films of 2008 for, basically, one reason: a forced raunchiness that just turned my stomach and was way beneath such talented comedians.

"The Other Guys" is certainly no movie for children, but its PG-13 rating is appropriate. The innuendo gets a little out there occasionally, but for the most part stays in bounds. This forces the comedy to be smarter, preventing the actors from relying on long strings of expletives in place of humor. Don't get me wrong, a good F-bomb laced rant can be pretty funny, but not two hours of it. Here's hoping that "Guys" will be a huge success and the talented team of McKay and Ferrell will see that the hard-R comedies should be left to other, lesser filmmakers.

Grade: B+

"The Other Guys" is rated PG-13 for language, action violence, and some crude and sexual humor.

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