When it comes to the current state of comedies, outside of Adam Sandler and his go to group of director friends like Dennis Dugan and Frank Coraci, filmmaking collaborations are a rarity. Even more of a rarity are pairings that work more often than not—yes that was a backhanded Sandler-Dugan dig. The Other Guys, another outing with Will Ferrell in front of the camera and Adam Mckay, is one of those exceptions. Ferrell plays meek desk jockey Gamble, a forensic accountant who has never shot his gun and is content using his computer to enforce law and order. His partner is Terry Hoitz (Mark Whalberg) a tightly wound could-a-been, bristling at being tethered to Gamble and a desk after accidently shooting Derek Jeter.
Gamble and Hoitz, as well as most of their department, sit in the shadow of supercops Danson and Highsmith (Dewayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson). Even though they can rack up insane amounts of property damage and place innocent bystanders in harm’s way, Danson and Highsmith are revered by the city. Hot dog vendors offer them free dogs for life—but no cokes, can’t afford that—get decorated with medals, and they party with the rich and famous.
When Danson and Highsmith—in the film’s most darkly comic moment, as well as most pointed jab at buddy cop clichés—are killed in the line of duty, Hoitz, sees his chance to stop pushing paperwork and to finally hit the streets solving crimes like a real cop. However, thanks to Gamble’s lead foot, the Prius’s surprising get up and go, and a ill placed corpse, Hoitz and Gamble’s first attempt to nab a case doesn’t go the way they hoped.
Instead of heading back to the station to sulk and lick their wounds, Gamble forces Hoitz to follow up on the case Gamble’s been working on, which is investigating why financier David Ershon (Steve Coogan) hasn’t filed any scaffolding permits for any of his building projects. Hoitz, thinks it’s a dud of a case until a security team crashes into Gamble’s prius, seizes Ershon, who begs to not be taken, and in one of the film’s running gags, grabs Gamble and Hoitz's shoes and guns.
Wringing new humor from the Buddy Cop genre is no easy feat. The genre and its variants not only devolved into self parody years ago, but action comedy hybrids like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours have long existed. Ferrell and McKay, succeed where many have failed by crafting a film that’s not just another parody of 80s action films, but an updated take that is more a sly satire and commentary on our current age of Bernie Maddoff, Enron and billion dollar schemes. In the years since drug deals and arms smuggling became front page news, and fodder for Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson to lay waste to a sea of nameless bad guys on screen, it’s become more and more evident that white collar criminals and crimes are just as dangerous. When the average person knows what a Ponzi Scheme is and can describe how it works, you know the world has changed.
At one point, Hoitz and Gamble’s Captain (Michael Keaton) points out that for all of their flash, Danson and Highsmith were actually shitty cops. Shitty cops bad at doing their core job which is solving crimes and not simply arresting perps.
One gets the sense that Keaton’s Captain Mauch wasn’t happy about having to sideline cops like Hoitz and Gamble. But as long as the city and the police brass were behind Danson and Highsmith, and Hoitz and Gamble weren’t producing tangible results that earned the department good press, there wasn’t much he could do. It’s a point of view that share’s more than a few similarities to The Wire’s own cynical take on real police work losing out to internal police politics and favorable PR.
Ferrell and McKay also score comedic points with their casting. Eva Mendes as Gamble’s hot doctor wife, Steve Coogan as the slimy investment banker, and Keaton as the harried Captain who’s working a second job at Bed, Bath and Beyond to pay for his bisexual son’s dream of being a DJ, fill in nicely. Jackson and Johnson aren’t on screen long, but they leave a lasting impression—literally when you see how they’re dispatched—on the film.
As with their previous films, Ferrell and Mckay also illustrate that they know how to construct running gags that work, such as Gamble’s inexplicable ability to attract women who are 9’s and 10s to his, at best, 6. The dinner scene, when Hoitz meets Gamble’s wife Sheila for the first time, is a comedic master class in how important understatement and timing are just as important as dialogue. And fans of Anchorman will find that The Other Guy is nearly as quotable. “Pimps don’t cry” is all I’m going to type.
Where the movie falls flat is in the poorly constructed action scenes and length.
In terms of economy and keeping the story moving forward, the action is serviceable, if often visually incoherent. And admittedly, while the film can feel long, considering Mckay and co-writer Chris Henchy built their jokes on a rather involved and credible plot, a plot that could have been the basis of a played for straight cop film, the length is a worthy trade-off.