Movie Review: The Other Guys
By Matthew Huntley
August 19, 2010
And The Other Guys started out so well, too. Here is an action buddy comedy that uses up all its energy and punch lines during its first half, before steadily descending into awkward and uncomfortable silences. I can only imagine how funny and memorable the entire movie would have been had it ended as strongly as it began. Unfortunately, that’s all I can do - imagine.
In what seemed like a rebound for the Will Ferrell-Andy McKay comedy team, who last brought us the deplorable Step Brothers, but before that made the riotous Talladega Nights, The Other Guys is an over-the-top action movie that starts out making fun of other over-the-top action movies, most indirectly the Lethal Weapon series. On that level, it worked and I was with it. But then it started to miss more marks than it hit.
It opens with two of New York City’s finest police officers, Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne Johnson), chasing a gang of thugs for mere marijuana possession. They race down the streets of Manhattan, jump on top of cars, crash into a double-decker bus, seize control of the bus and wind up costing the city $12 million worth of property damage. But, it was all in the name of justice, and in any action cop movie, that alone makes it all worth it. The city awards them a commendation and a hot dog vendor offers them free hot dogs for life (no drinks, though; that’s too expensive).
Cut to Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg). These are the “other guys,” otherwise known as the laughing stock of the NYPD. Gamble is a nerdy, effeminate accountant and Hoitz is an irascible hothead who’s routinely scorned by the rest of the force for accidentally shooting Derek Jeter in the leg. Gamble and Hoitz sit across from each other and serve as verbal punching bags for their colleagues.
When Highsmith and Danson face an untimely death trying to catch a band of jewel thieves, Hoitz urges Gamble to help him solve the case so they can become the city’s new heroes. They find themselves knee-deep in a plot to drain the NYPD pension fund so some financial cheater (Steve Coogan) can pay back his $32 billion debt. For a movie where the plot is supposed to be a mere thread on which to hang comic action sequences, it sure is convoluted and the movie spends an unnecessary amount of time trying to weave itself through it.
But the plot doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether the movie makes us laugh and it starts out doing that with some fresh and inspired moments, including its deliberately outrageous opening sequence (along with a funny narration by the rapper-actor Ice T); an unexpected death scene; and a fight where everyone tries to keep their voice down. Michael Keaton is well cast as the police captain who has to baby-sit his men and let everybody know he works a second job at Bed Bath & Beyond to make ends meet. It was also a nice touch to provide Gamble a buxom and attractive wife (Eva Mendes), causing Hoitz to be stuck in a constant state of disbelief and envy.
Unfortunately, though, these inspirational comic moments subside and the filmmakers either retell the same jokes or the come up with lame new ones. For instance, there’s a scene when Hoitz tries to win back his ex-girlfriend at a ballet studio, and to prove his love for her, he performs a small ballet sequence. Such a moment could have been hilarious but Wahlberg plays it so straight and serious that it dilutes the frivolity of the situation. Nobody on-screen seems to know how to react to what just happened, which is the same vibe that continues throughout the rest of the picture.
Another instance occurs when Gamble’s ex-girlfriend starts hitting him mercilessly. Are we supposed to laugh at this just because it’s random? What’s this woman’s motivation, and why is it funny? Is it just because she’s nutty? I wasn’t buying it. When something is funny, I laugh, but the latter half of The Other Guys didn’t make me laugh. I just kept questioning why the filmmakers thought any of these awkward moments were entertaining. To me, they lacked energy and purpose, and with the plot being so unnecessarily perplexing, the movie started to exhaust me.
The essential problem with The Other Guys is it loses confidence too early on and instead of continuing as a parody of buddy cop movies, it turns into a regular one and becomes a bore. Eventually, it succumbs to the very conventions it started out lampooning, giving up its edge and sense of irony. It’s a shame, too, because the set up is so promising. By the end, though, the freshness has worn off. Just watch the scene after the closing credits, in which Hoitz tells Gamble a joke that Gamble doesn’t get. At that point, we knew how he feels.