Breaking Down Buddy-Cop Clichés with 'The Other Guys'
Never mind the barely functional story line that provides a flimsy backdrop for Will Ferrell’s improvised riffs and Mark Wahlberg’s empty-headed rants in The Other Guys, the latest collaboration from Ferrell and Adam McKay.
Since teaming up after coinciding runs on Saturday Night Live – Ferrell as the show’s most charismatic star, McKay as its head writer – they have lampooned TV talking heads in 2004’s Anchorman and asinine adrenaline junkies in 2006’s Talladega Nights. Here, they target buddy-cop clichés, among them two rock-star detectives straight out of Michael Bay’s playbook.
Danson (Dwayne Johnson) and Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) don’t do paperwork. They tear through vintage Chevy Impalas with brazen abandon, and rack up millions in damages during an overblown pot bust. They may not keep New York safe, but every arrest is a Hollywood production.
Ferrell and Wahlberg are the other guys: Allen Gamble, the unflappable team player happy to saddle himself with administrative busywork, and Terry Hoitz, a rock-star wannabe who lacks the smarts to make his Bad Boys dreams a reality. As Hoitz, Wahlberg gamely sheds his tough-guy persona, leaving only a vacant stare and dimwitted ambition.
Gamble is different. Happiest behind a desk, fearful of revealing the wild side he flaunted during his college days, he is the consummate square: He drives a Prius, prefers adult contemporary to Rage Against the Machine and carries himself around the office like a cheerleader.
Pressed into action when Danson and Highsmith take a nasty spill, the other guys initially butt heads before stumbling onto a white-collar racketeering scam orchestrated by Steve Coogan’s slick Gordon Gekko knockoff. But while The Other Guys acknowledges all the conventions of a police procedural, only to deflate them with deadpan precision, the plot is really beside the point.
Do the jokes pay off? Mostly, yes, despite the movie’s occasional sluggishness. McKay and Chris Henchy’s script, aided by Ferrell’s flights of inspired absurdity, works best when it takes the genre’s best-known clichés and stands them on their head. We know that Gamble and Hoitz’s frustrated captain (Michael Keaton, perfectly cast) will read his men the riot act, but how he does it – in laughably hushed tones, at a funeral – makes the scene special.
Elsewhere, the movie treats us to cops too lovably dumb to realize they’ve been bribed until, sitting courtside at a Knicks game, rubbing elbows with Manhattan’s most beautiful, it begins to dawn on them. Their mistakes are many, their successes few, and their incompetence a gift that keeps on giving.