"The Other Guys" is that rare thing, a goofball summer buddy comedy that actually delivers. The movie is a return to form for Will Ferrell, who finally reins in the idiot frenzy he's so often deployed in the past (most recently in last year's dismal "Land of the Lost") and — an added blessing — shows no skin, either. It's also a breakthrough for Mark Wahlberg, who dipped a toe into the comedy waters of "Date Night," but here makes a sizeable splash. Wahlberg isn't an all-out clown in the Ferrell style, but his careful restraint in this picture — his comic simmering and his lag-timed reactions — is just as funny in a different way.
The stars play Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz, two New York City police detectives stuck in the paper-pushing backwaters of their department while a pair of more charismatic cops (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson in fleeting cameos) get all the action, and the headlines. Allen (Ferrell) is a forensic accountant — he loves paperwork. His partner Hoitz (Wahlberg) hates it — but his career was sidelined after he accidentally shot Yankees star Derek Jeter one night. ("You shoulda shot A-Rod," another cop snipes.) Then these two stumble onto a big Wall Street financial scam — a Ponzi scheme being run by an English investment mogul named Ershon (Steve Coogan). If Allen and Terry can crack this case, career resuscitation will surely follow.
This thicket of financial shenanigans is the movie's most strained element — it's essentially a platform for the filmmakers to lecture the audience about the evils of capitalism. (Addressing a business audience, Ershon cackles, "Live for excess — it is the American way.") As always, though, this rote Hollywood moralizing sits awkwardly in a big-budget film, especially one starring a man who reportedly makes $20-million a picture.
The high-finance plot is in any case a distraction that's generally obscured by the laugh-bombs going off all around it. Allen is endlessly castigated by his fellow cops as an overgrown sissy (drives a Prius, loves the Little River Band), but he's also, inexplicably, a major chick magnet. (Taking Terry to his home, he warns that his wife is something of a dog: "She's a big old broad." Then she turns out to be played by the definitively un-doglike Eva Mendes.) He has also written a downloadable app called Faceback — scan in the back of someone's head and it shows you the face. The script, by director Adam McKay and Chris Henchy, also provides some nifty business for the boys' boss, Chief Mauch (Michael Keaton), who moonlights as a sales clerk at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and is prone to converse in TLC lyrics (a joke that's milked a little too much). It's good to have Keaton back in the big-time, and in solid comic form; he's been away too long.
The movie is a full-throated parody of the urban action genre: many cars crash, many bullets fly, and a whole lot of stuff blows up. But even the pandemonium has a comic shape. (The sequence in which a helicopter attack is repelled by a blizzard of golf balls is explosively funny.) And the ricocheting one-liners rise above even the most clamorous mayhem. When Terry erupts in frustration over being a desk-job drone — "I'm a peacock! You gotta let me fly!" — the movie earns the highest possible praise for this sort of project: It's a truly ridiculous picture.
Don't miss Kurt Loder's review of "Middle Men," also new in theaters this week.
Check out everything we've got on "The Other Guys."
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