Some time during the last decade the gods of comedy divided our world of laughter into three movie spheres. In one of these dwell the raunchy Seth Rogen flicks and their ilk, which lean heavily on foul bachelor humor and the assumption that men’s IQ have a direct relation to the content of weed they smoke. The other sphere consists of precocious indy comedies and awkward teen flicks that would be great date movies, if only they were funny. The ones that make you sound smart when you tell your friends about them.
The third branch of funny, and the hardest to get onboard with, spawned like lightening out of the stormcloud that is Saturday Night Live. Stars of SNL frequently break from sketch comedy to find movie vehicles for themselves; Chevy Chase, Dana Carvey, Mike Meyers, Tim Meadows, Tina Fey, etc. One of the most recent and highest grossing stars of the SNL phenomenon is Will Ferrell, whose movies frequently feel like 10-minute character sketches that were stretched to fill an hour and a half of screen time (Anchorman was great, Step Brothers should have been incinerated).
The Other Guys, a buddy cop movie starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, balances slapstick, raunch, and over-the-top action, with flair rarely seen in today’s comedies. It looks like just another Ferrell bit on the surface. But between the ridiculous gunfights, Samuel Jackson’s berating of the unassuming secretary, and Wahlberg’s impotent tantrums, The Other Guys strikes a funny chord that keeps humming all the way to the end.
Why it works:
Everyone in the cast of The Other Guys is utilized to their utmost, giving each actor the freedom to play an extreme version of the characters they’re known for. Samuel Jackson, as the intensely angry black man, and his muscled partner Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, fight petty crime with all the prejudice and tenacity of a bundle of lit dynamite. As the fantasy cop duo they wreck up the city and reap the public accolades, while ‘the other guys’ stuck in the office take care of all the paperwork.
After a freak jumping-off-a-skyscraper accident proves fatal for the real heroes, the ludicrous crime fighting torch is passed to the spineless paper pusher (Ferrell) and an irate, love-starved benched cop (Wahlberg). Their quest for justice takes them deep into the underbelly of...more paperwork. Each big break in the case leads to more evidence of a cashflow scheme- one that’s so nefarious it taps into cop retirement funds and the revenues of public servants.
The unlikely pair remain combative with one another throughout most of the film, despite uncovering several shocking truths about each other. Such as a history of pimping college co-eds in a quirky prostitution ring. Or Wahlberg’s macho character having extensive art and ballet training, which he only used to mock the queer artsy kids from his old neighborhood, so he claims. The hatred between these two, especially near the beginning, make the Odd Couple look pleasant and well adjusted.
After the leaflets settle:
Not every line delivered in this movie is gold, and some of the jokes fall flat. But one of the hardest parts of comedy is accounting for everyone’s sense of humor. In a horror movie it’s a safe bet that your audience will be frightened by the same things; events or monsters that threaten the protagonist’s mortality, something we can all sympathize with. Comedy, however, hits everyone differently. Some people can’t stand puns or wordplay, while others love redneck or potty humor. The Other Guys manage to consistently stir a good chuckle without pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Another note I’d like to make about this film is its subtle message about white collar crime. During the movie Will Ferrell comments on the amount of money stolen through major corporation heads compared to the insignificant value of most drug and property offenses. There is even a series of charts and animations that run during the credits, depicting simplified versions of the big money schemes we’ve seen in the media. It may be misplaced in its attempt to educate the audience after a slapstick blockbuster that dwells heavily on the subject of hobo-orgies, but I applaud the effort nonetheless.