Summer brings a steady diet of action, sci-fi and adventure films and I am pleased to finally shift gears to comedy. Before I launch into my dissection of The Other Guys, I feel the need to explain to the reader where I stand when it comes to comedy in general and buddy/cop comedies in particular.
In recent history, the comedies I have seen in theaters and have absolutely wet myself laughing at include Meet the Parents (2000), Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy (2004) and Wedding Crashers (2005). When it comes to the buddy/cop sub genre, the Rush Hour (1998-2007) films are the gold standard which more or less follows the culture clashing formula established in Beverly Hills Cop (1984). I consider all these films to be top tier comedies and movies that are not to be missed even by those who are, shall we say, unmoved and uninspired by any comedy: you know, Dick Cheney types.
The Other Guys is a comedic collaboration between Will Ferrell and his directing cohort, Adam McKay. The intent of this film is to poke fun at every cop film convention and uses the relationship between Ferrell’s and Mark Wahlberg’s characters as the lens for this experiment. On paper, this seems like an obvious hit because the casting is there, the historic success of the key players involved in the production is there and the idea is solid, although it has been done before. The Other Guys is the worst film of this summer thus far because it whiffs at every attempt to hit a home run wise crack, displays Will Ferrell at his absolute comedic worst in regards to timing and chemistry, and is plagued by a relentless string of awkward arguments between the main characters that the audience is left wondering when it was supposed to laugh.
I cannot remember the last time I heard so many crickets in the theater and I was incredibly disappointed in the product. There are many reasons why this film was an epic failure, but the responsibility for this falls on the shoulders of McKay and Ferrell in equal shares.
Bad writing is usually one of the first and most important reasons why any film is a disappointment. The plot of The Other Guys is frankly convoluted, but at the same time is a MacGuffin to the importance of giving the audience some plausible situation to see the two main characters of stark contrast working together in some capacity. I do not understand the incessant need by writers Adam McKay and Chris Henchy to make the bad guys responsible for some sort of Enron/AIG, corporate crime meltdown. If they wanted to make a film relevant to America’s economic turmoil, they should have made a documentary using the fun facts they display during the end credits as a spring board.
Buddy/cop films historically have very basic plots because the bulk of the available screen time is devoted to the funny situations an unlikely duo gets into. There is an awful lot of time where it is just Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg on the screen, but none of it advances the plot. Plot progression is fulfilled by token scenes highlighting solo investigations by Ferrell’s character. In addition, the decision to make all the jokes stem from awkwardly drawn-out arguments/conversations was a mistake and due to a hangover effect of the success of Step Brothers (2008). It is simply too much of the same thing in scene after scene. There needs to be more variety of funny written into this film such as more “smart” funny jokes, slapstick and, dare I say, vintage Will Ferrell absurdity.
One of the reasons why I respect Kevin Smith as a filmmaker is that he knows his limitations. During a director’s commentary for Dogma (1999), he explains why he cut away from overtly physical and action oriented scenes because he simply “does not shoot them well.” This is a realization that Adam McKay would do well to expedite before shooting begins for his adaptation of The Boys. McKay basically takes the same shooting script from Step Brothers and carries it over to The Other Guys. Perhaps he does not appreciate the subtle differences between the two films, but action is a significant part of every buddy/cop film. Most, if not all of the “action” scenes are in the first five minutes of the film (executed by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) and the last five minutes of the film (executed by Mark Wahlberg). This means that McKay really went out of his way to avoid shooting action all together, but as a mere amateur providing a humble recommendation, I suggest he divorces himself from static shots and gets more dynamic by way of steady cam and tracking shots.
For crying out loud, this film had an unfathomable $90 million budget! I would think McKay would have found a way to make this film at least look like it was that expensive. If he cannot evolve as a filmmaker, my final suggestion would be to hire the Wachowski Bros. as consultants. With that kind of budget, McKay can easily afford them.
As to the actors’ performances, I must say that I have not been this disappointed in Will Ferrell since Bewitched (2005). His character, Allen Gamble, represents a personality that is not quite attuned to that associated with actual police officers. He rocks out to easy listening, gets off to doing paperwork and relaxes by singing “a capella” with his cronies at the local pub. Yes, this is funny, but Ferrell confines himself to this shell for the duration of the film. The audience is waiting for that moment where Ferrell discards whatever paltry character he has been assigned and shows us his true form, thus taking the comedy for the rest of the film to the upper echelon. This moment never occurs and coincidently the entire film’s tone orbits around comedic coyness.
Ferrell sets the tone for every film he is featured in and unless his comedic energy is high, his performance is lax. Perhaps this lack of comedic chemistry was due to his co-star, Mark Wahlberg, who has no comedic experience whatsoever. Wahlberg’s job in most films is to play a hard case, bad ass so if he was required to play off Ferrell like John C. Reilly, Adam McKay should have simply cast John C. Reilly. Marky Mark contributes by relentlessly antagonizing Ferrell’s character and he has nice comedic moments whenever referencing Ferrell’s hot wife. Ultimately, Will Ferrell assumes the burden of producing all of the funny in every scene and he has not demonstrated the ability to do so in any of his films. He has always had an actor of equal comedic prowess to play with. A buddy/cop film needs the buddies to click. Wahlberg and Ferrell miss the connecting train all together.
Before writing this review, I engaged in an experiment of my own by monitoring the response to this film around the internet. I was shocked – shocked, I tell you -- at how the majority of trusted websites had lined up to get on their knees to give positive service to The Other Guys. I must have seen the rough cut. I was further dismayed at how some pegged this film as superior to those I listed in the beginning of this review. his may be the effects of the marketing machine attached to any film that tries to build hype and word of mouth, but I cannot see this coming from the completely earnest opinions of film connoisseurs or even casual fans.
Will Ferrell has made a career of making the mundanely stupid into the outrageously funny. The Other Guys is just plain stupid. Perhaps Ferrell was too busy running and contributing to FunnyOrDie.com that he could not be pestered by putting his best foot foreword. Perhaps this is the reason why I am reviewing The Other Guys and not Anchorman 2.