Combustible Celluloid
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With: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Steve Coogan, Bobby Cannavale, Zoe Lister Jones, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Ray Stevenson, Derek Jeter, Brooke Shields
Written by: Adam McKay, Chris Henchy
Directed by: Adam McKay
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material
Running Time: 107
Date: 08/02/2010

The Other Guys (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cop Circles

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Will Ferrell has developed a perfect comic persona for himself. It's not unlike Charlie Chaplin's "tramp" persona, with all its various juxtapositions and conflicts -- the tight little jacket and baggy pants, for example -- causing comedy at every step. Ferrell presents his big, man's frame and fills it in with girlish behavior (occasionally a role requires boyish behavior, but it's better, as in his biggest success Elf, when it's girlish). Here he wears big glasses and a tight shock of curly hair, with tired-looking beige clothes. Throughout The Other Guys, Ferrell's sidekick Mark Wahlberg throws at him any number of emasculating remarks. His car is "like driving a vagina," or his urine hitting the porcelain "sounds feminine." But Ferrell never blinks, never flinches, because this is what's so funny.

Allen Gamble (Ferrell) is an accountant for the New York Police Department. His partner is detective Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), who is being punished for a particularly embarrassing incident at Yankee Stadium. The stars of the department are P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson), but Terry hopes that he and his passive partner will be able to step up and be the next stars. They begin to investigate a permit violation, committed by billionaire businessman David Ershon (Steve Coogan), which leads to untold levels of corruption. Of course, the comic cops constantly bungle things up and get themselves in trouble. For example, Allen loses his firearm and gets a wooden "practice" gun instead; later, he's further demoted to a rape whistle.

There are lots of supporting roles and cameos, notably a typically excellent Michael Keaton as the police captain, who must work a second job at Bed, Bath & Beyond to make ends meet. Eva Mendes stars as Allen's wife; the running joke is that he thinks she's "plain," while Terry can't stop staring at her. Bobby Cannavale is a hotshot cop, and Zoe Lister Jones is a therapist.

When the movie focuses on Terry and Allen and their banter, the movie is hilarious, and happily, this is quite often. Unfortunately, director and co-writer Adam McKay fills the movie too full of other characters, plot threads and subplots, and attempts to mimic a straight-ahead cop thriller. McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers) is a fine comedy director, but his obligatory car chase sequences and shootouts are just plain awful. He clearly has no knack for them, and it's a butchery and a waste of time. (A colleague suggested that they're bad on purpose?) Then the movie suffers from a third-act slowdown, dropping all jokes while McKay wraps up all his plot threads. And McKay wants us to know that he's seriously angry about Bernie Madoff-type corporate swindling and gives us a fact-filled credit sequence about tons of money that has illegally changed hands over the years.

Someday filmmakers will learn that comedies are better shorter and leaner, with more emphasis on jokes and characters than on plot. No one laughs at a plot. Meanwhile, there's enough strong Ferrell material here, nicely matched by Wahlberg, to make at least half of a good movie.

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