Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 11, 2014)
Back in 2008, Step Brothers became my favorite comedy of the summer. Another collaboration from director Adam McKay and actor Will Ferrell, I hoped that 2010’s The Other Guys would repeat that feat. Alas, this wasn’t to be, as Guys proved fitfully entertaining at best.
New York police officers Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne Johnson) ride high on the hog as the city’s baddest cops. Sure, they cause massive damage wherever they go, but they’re as tough and brash as they come.
Which leaves a massive void when they both die in the line of duty. Stuck in a go-nowhere desk job due to prior transgressions, Detective Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) wants to push the envelope and take over where Highsmith and Danson left off, but his partner Allen Gamble (Ferrell) prefers the low-risk, low-excitement life he leads.
Inadvertently, Allen sends them down the path his partner craves. Allen comes from an accounting background, and he seeks the arrest of David Ershon (Steve Coogan), an investor who didn’t get the building permits he needed. They apprehend Ershon but matters quickly go awry and become quite complicated as the cops end up in the middle of a complex case way beyond their normal scope.
Like I mentioned at the start of this review, I really looked forward to Other Guys and rushed to see it when it opened. Alas, the film disappointed me, and I can’t say that additional screenings changed my opinion. The movie delivers moderate laughs, but it never approaches the heights of Step Brothers - or even Talladega Nights, the prior collaboration between McKay and Ferrell.
It doesn’t take long to figure out one possible reason things went wrong: the change in Ferrell’s comedic partner. While he worked with Wahlberg here, Ferrell got to bounce off of John C. Reilly in the earlier films. And bounce they did, as the pair demonstrated excellent chemistry and blended to make those movies much funnier than otherwise would’ve been the case.
No such sizzle comes from the combination of Wahlberg and Ferrell. Honestly, I can never quite decide what to make of Wahlberg as an actor. Although I think he has talent, he displays his skills in an awfully erratic fashion, and it’s hard to pin down the kind of projects that best suit him. To date, I suspect his best performance came in The Departed, a role for which he earned a deserved Oscar nomination. That’s not the only time I’ve seen good work from Wahlberg, but more often than not, he provides turns that lack much personality or flair.
In Other Guys, Wahlberg brings us a perfectly acceptable performance, but he nonetheless acts as a liability just because “perfectly acceptable” doesn’t help move the movie along in a strong fashion. While I think Wahlberg demonstrates some decent comedic chops, he seems out of his element up against the talents we find here. Other Guys comes chock full of fine funny men, so Wahlberg sticks out; he occasionally gives his lines an amusing twist, but too often, he doesn’t manage to deliver the appropriate feel.
Wahlberg also fails to present much chemistry with Ferrell, especially when compared with the Reilly/Ferrell connection. No, Reilly shouldn’t have played Terry – he’d be woefully inappropriate as someone with the detective’s borderline supercop skills – but I’d like to see some who better mixes comedy and action. While Wahlberg doesn’t become a true liability, he also can’t do anything to elevate the material.
This leaves Ferrell nearly in a vacuum, though the supporting actors help. Coogan makes his handful of scenes little comic winners, and I mostly like Michael Keaton’s take on the police captain. I hate the running TLC gag, but Keaton manages to offer his own funny twist on the part and brings much needed life to his moments.
Many others add pizzazz as well, but the script lets them down. Other Guys comes with an almost insanely complicated plot that serves no purpose other than to confuse the audience. As an animated sequence that accompanies the end credits illustrates, the filmmakers clearly want to make a comment on the current state of corruption in the business world.
That’s all well and good, but would it have been difficult to make a less convoluted story? I don’t think so; I see no reason why the movie needs such a twisty, messy, nearly incomprehensible plot. It simply muddies the water and makes it harder to enjoy the comedy; we’re too busy trying to understand the hubbub to simply laugh.
Though I’m not sure how many laughs would result anyway. Other Guys provides quite a few lines and gags that feel like they should be hilarious – why do so few of them provoke actual chuckles? As I watch the film, I often think that something is amusing but the reaction rarely goes beyond the intellectual; I can respect the potential comedy but I can’t locate the “X”-factor that makes the moment gut busting.
Or even chuckle worthy most of the time. The Other Guys offers a pleasant diversion, and it presents enough mild amusement to make it an enjoyable time. It simply doesn’t go beyond that, as it lacks the comedic power it aspires to portray.