Will Ferrell does not get naked in The Other Guys. Not even a little. And it's the absence of his pasty, white belly alone that makes this latest comedy creation from the Adam McKay-Ferrell team a welcome addition to the comic actor's oeuvre. Though it isn't as instantly quotable as Anchorman, nor as slyly political as Talladega Nights (with its red state-blue state send-ups), The Other Guys delivers enough Funny or Die! moments to keep things chugging along. For a while.
The punch lines come fast and thick in the film's first half, detouring into some inspired out-of-left-field bits — a monologue about lions fighting tunas, hobo sex in a Prius — but as the film's convoluted white-collar crime plot takes over, the mirth wanes and what remains are mostly retreads of the movie's earlier jokes and lots of frantic action.
Perpetually pissed-off New York police officer Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) has been demoted to desk duty, partnered with Allen (Ferrell), a milquetoast forensic accountant. Their entire police division lives in the shadow of two supercops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), who are known for their over-the-top, property-destroying arrests. When the ultra-macho cops die in a hilariously surreal act of buddy-cop bravado, Terry and Allen get their chance to shine as detectives. It's Lethal Weapon meets Abbott and Costello.
McKay and Ferrell give the recent upsurge in action flicks a timely kick in the pants as they mercilessly send up Michael Bay-style filmmaking. Their insane, big-budget car chases and ridiculous explosions are offset by goofy comedic asides and giddy nonsensical riffs. The best ones include Allen's past life as a pimp named Gator, and Eva Mendes upending her typical throwaway hot girlfriend role into Ferrell's hilarious Madonna-whore wife. Listening to her briefly croon "Pimps Don't Cry" makes clear that this is comedy by a thousand nicks.
Such side players as Ron Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., and Michael Keaton do good work as slightly askew action-flick clichés, but it's Ferrell and Wahlberg's show. Which means it's mostly Ferrell's show, once again turning his dweeby man-child act into a wonderful wellspring of laughs.
But as funny as The Other Guys can be, it never achieves the brilliant lunacy of Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz, the high-water mark in buddy-cop mockery. For one, McKay isn't an accomplished enough director to make the action scenes anything other than noisy. For two, the movie's didactic plot about institutionalized financial corruption (highlighted by a perplexing end-credits sequence) doesn't build, dramatically or comically. In fact, there's a moment in the third act where Ferrell essentially recaps the storyline (in case we missed it), to which Wahlberg replies, "I don't care."
Neither will the audience.
Jeff Meyers is a film critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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