When I was choking through laughter at one point during “The Other Guys,” Will Ferrell’s character was delivering a lengthy rant about lions and tuna. Out of context, the subject matter seems a bit odd, and on screen it resonates with just as much silliness.
Like any Adam McKay/Will Ferrell vehicle, “The Other Guys” is filled with characters that yell every line with superfluous exclamation, a forced technique I grew weary of in some of the duo’s other collaborations, especially “Step Brothers.” Luckily, the dialogue is just as hilarious as it is unnatural, and whether Will Ferrell is vehemently discussing lions, tuna, or the impossibility of Hollywood explosions, the end result typically falls in the realm of laugh-out-loud comedy.
“The Other Guys” had me laughing and gasping for air while simultaneously shaking my head in delirious confusion. The movie is filled with dialogue and situations that are soaked with gratuitous absurdity and unexpectedness, and 50% of the laughter comes from simply not knowing what else to do with what we are given. On a typical day, a viewer would find some of the subject matter in “The Other Guys” unappealing. The movie manages to make these circumstances funny, which has to say something for its measure of comedic power.
The movie begins with an action-fueled chase between a group of criminals and New York City’s “super cops,” Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson). The duo is the film’s example of “The Guys,” the partners that every action cop movie glorifies. These are the cops that cause millions of dollars worth of property destruction in order to catch a few measly drug dealers, and then become heroes regardless, all repercussions completely expunged. Johnson and Jackson are having loads of fun, and the zeal shines through.
Then there’s “The Other Guys;” Ferrell’s Allen Gamble and Mark Wahlberg as Terry Hoitz, detectives who spend the majority of their day behind a desk and computer as opposed to roaming the streets. The premise had me from the beginning, even though I knew that eventually, Allen and Terry were bound to become “The Guys.” I just prayed that “The Other Guys” didn’t eventually become the movie it was attempting to poke fun at. Luckily, it doesn’t.
This is essentially Will Ferrell’s funniest comedy since “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” and writer/director Adam McKay’s as well (since that film, the duo have teamed up on “Talladega Nights” and “Step Brothers”).
While “Step Brothers” was fairly funny, the effect was forced with obscenity-laced dialogue that drove the movie from humorous to just plain vulgar. Crudeness can only go so far. With “The Other Guys” and its PG-13 limitations, the dialogue remains restricted to reveling in the ridiculous as opposed to the coarse, and the ride is far smoother and far more hilarious as a result.
Ferrell returns to the stage I much prefer him on, with a character that is less of a one-line gag and more of an actual person, and Wahlberg delivers his character with just as much passion as his Oscar-nominated performance in “The Departed.” When we find out why Terry had to use his gun in the line of duty, it is the movie’s funniest bit, especially when considering Marky Mark’s Boston roots (I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but it will all make sense if you see it).
There is no comedic classic waiting to come out in “The Other Guys.” It is one of those films that, in years’ time, viewers will come to whenever seeking a couple hours of laughter and escape. Either way, it will stick, because it is actually a genuinely funny, wild, and out-of-control comedic prospect. In the end, I laughed generously and for a film like this, that’s what matters most.
Greg Vellante is a film critic for The Eagle Tribune.