I’ve professed my love for Mark Wahlberg here before. Part of it was a kind of sympathy for the physical condition he had that prevented him from smiling; another part was appreciation for how many pictures there are of him with his kit off; finally, there was a hint of nostalgia for the halcyon days of my youth when he was part of New Kids on the Block, and rapping away as Marky Mark. Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when, during my viewing of The Other Guys, Mark Wahlberg came up with this big toothy smile. I think I fainted for a little while, and my illusions were shattered.*
In New York City, the entire police department is in awe of two men: PK Highsmith (Samuel L Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). These men are all the brawn and posturing that is required from high-profile detectives, from mid-chase wisecracks (“Did someone call 9-1-holy shit?”) to causing massive explosions and widespread property damage. And then there are the other guys: Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), two men stuck doing paper-pushing due respectively to a fear of risks and the accidental shooting of pro baseballer Derek Jeter. While everyone’s out doing the serious busts, Gamble and Hoitz have a scaffolding violation to deal with—which then turns into something much larger than they expected. Without the force on their side, and with Gamble only sporting a wooden gun after having his real one confiscated, will they be able to take control without continuing to be the mockery of the NYC police?
This is one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean that in a bad way—I’m just totally surprised by how many times I turned to Chris, mid-hysterical laughter, and asked him, “What the hell?” Everything about it is patented Will Ferrell insane, though perhaps even more so. If you took the scene in Talladega Nights where Ricky Bobby and Cal professed their love for baby Jesus, and then the one where Ricky Bobby thought he was on fire, then stretched it over two hours—then you get The Other Guys, where weird shit happens pretty much every moment: there’s a violent car chase in a hybrid car with the sweet voices of the Mamas and the Papas as the soundtrack; Gamble and Hoitz’s nemesis police officers, Fosse and Martin, called into a bust while discussing careers at an elementary school invite one lucky schoolgirl along with them on a bust; police captain Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton) has a second job at Bed Bath and Beyond.
Allen Gamble is gentle, kind, gullible, and drives a Prius. (The horror, etc.) Terry Hoitz is on edge, constantly yelling and throwing things, swearing and doling out insults. The two of them are unsurprisingly an odd couple, though each of them helps the team out with unexpected knowledge—Gamble’s driving techniques (thanks to Grand Theft Auto), Hoitz’s expert and beautiful ballet dancing (which he learned to make fun of the “queer kid” up the street who was a dancer.) Will Ferrell movies often involve movie clichés that have a running commentary, and that theme continues in this movie. An explosion ends with them writhing on the ground in pain and shouting about how unrealistic it is that in movies heroes walk away from them without flinching; they are offered courtside tickets by the man they are chasing and are on the court enjoying the game before Gamble says, “Wait, this feels like a bribe!” It’s obvious humour, but hey, I’m not always in the mood for subtle. Sometimes it’s just funnier to see a helicopter taken down by golf balls, or a policeman misinterpret “good cop, bad cop” as “bad cop, bad cop” and whale on Steve Coogan (who annoys me.)
The plot is very thin, really just enough to hang a bunch of jokes on. Still, I did need a key end scene explained to me, and am still a bit baffled in regards to it. When there wasn’t immediate comedy, the movie slowed right down. The idea of the police captain telling them to back off an obviously dramatic case was as frustrating as it always is, and not made fun of. And while these movies are never really offering social commentary, the role of women in this and all other related films remains the same: be pretty, slightly insane, inexplicably attracted to a jerk, and as per the Bechdel test, don’t talk to each other about anything but the men. (If at all.) There’s a running joke where the average-looking Gamble is attractive to outstandingly beautiful women, from his wife Sheila (Eva Mendes in tight dresses) to Brooke Shields (and screenwriter Chris Henchy’s wife) at a basketball game, which is almost great, because looks aren’t everything. Except that every single woman is drop-dead gorgeous. But I guess there’s only so much you can hope for in an over-the-top comedy that opens with a cop driving his car through a double-decker bus.
Beyond that trek into actual thoughtfulness, I had excellent fun watching this movie. The entire cinema was screaming with laughter at some scenes, and I actually rocked in my chair and almost cried, which caused the girl next to me to look at me funny. (Though she answered her damn mobile phone during the movie so she’s lucky I didn’t dunk her iPhone into my frozen coke.)
In summary: Meets Expectations (which were: stupid and funny and a blast)
And finally, payoff: stick around until after the credits. There’s some interesting facts while they roll, and a joke at the end.
*Do not read on if you hate finding out depressing things about the real life of actors you like, but I found out with my ninja Wikipedia skills that he used to be a racist little punk kid who threw rocks at African American kids in a bus, broke a neighbour’s jaw and left a Vietnamese man blind in one eye. He says he now regrets what he did and he “certainly paid for [his] mistakes”, and while I’m a big fan of rehabilitation and so on I really can’t come to the party on the idea that becoming a rich movie star with a gorgeous family and only serving 45 days in prison for attempted murder can be counted as paying for mistakes. As the jerky police guys warned a classroom of children in The Other Guys: “And remember, always try your hardest not to be black or Hispanic.”