I’m certain that my definition of brilliance in filmmaking is different from the definition others may espouse. In my estimation, Adam McKay has made an utterly brilliant film with his comedic parnter, Will Ferrell. The movie is called The Other Guys. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but it was released last weekend. Oh, wait, people did notice because it finally toppled that one brainy movie, Inception, from the number one position that it held at the box office for so many ridiculous weeks. At long last Leonardo DiCaprio and the guy who made that movie about the Joker a couple of years ago were given the what-for, by a titanic trio comprised of the aforementioned McKay and Ferrell and joined this time around by Mark Wahlberg.
It takes a certain bent kind of brain to truly appreciate movies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights and their relatives – Napoleon Dynamite, Hot Shots, The Naked Gun, Austin Powers; you get the idea. And these films are all due to the legendary screwball comedies like Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and The Greatest Movie Ever Made, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Those of us who love these movies will laugh hysterically at them no matter how many times we’ve seen them; we quote their lines in every appropriate and inappropriate occasion; we have parties for the sole reason of watching them. The Other Guys absolutely falls into this category. I can tell you right now that it will be watched repeatedly at my house and my parties. It also, somehow, transcends the genre. Slightly. Just enough to make it brilliant.
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play the titular “other guys” in this parody of buddy-cop movies. Ferrell is Allen Gamble, a boring forensic accountant (I don’t even know if that’s real, and I’m not sure I care, what an accolade that is) who is perfectly happy sitting at a desk humming and smiling to himself. He’s a touchy-feely nerd with a gorgeous wife – and he used to be a pimp. It’s so absurd that only Will Ferrell could pull it off. He seems more natural in the role as ever before.
Wahlberg is Terry Hoitz, the angry partner of the partnership. He’s tough guy recovering from a traumatic event (he shot Derek Jeter, on accident!), trying to earn back his reputation as a good cop. He’s slightly conflicted, but also ever so slightly off. He can dance and beat down helmeted Columbian drug lords on motorcycles. Right on.
The Other Guys has everything that Ferrell fans will love. There are extended and exaggerated arguments between Ferrell and Wahlberg with ridiculous metaphors. Early in the film they get into it, debating lions attacking tunas. Ferrell constructs a very persuasive argument for the victory of the tuna.
Wahlberg and Ferrell play off each other well. Going in I knew full well what inanity Ferrell was capable of, but Wahlberg showed me that he could be pretty off the wall, too. For example, I loved a scene when his character, Terry, barges into his ex-girlfriend’s legitimate dance studio and accuses her of being a stripper and her ballet partner being a crackhead. Then he actually dances (how he learned to dance is a touching story you can learn by watching the film). All the while “creepy-guy” Ferrell stands in the distant doorway loudly repeating “He loves you, Francine!” It’s classic oddball stuff, and Wahlberg accomplishes it with only slightly forced elan.
It’s got moments that I did not expect at all, and I’ve been watching movies like this for my whole life. Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson – who are basically guest stars for about the first twenty minutes – play super-cops Danson and Highsmith. These guys are the rock stars every other cop wants to be. They also are part of one of those lovely scenes that I just didn’t see coming. I won’t spoil it for those of you who have not seen the movie. All I’ll say is they are pursuing some thieves; they end up on top of a building, and the chase scene has just a smashing ending that completely cracked me up. It was the perfect send up of macho action heroes, but it’s all spliced into a movie that even novice comedy fans can dig.
Anchorman was pure absurdity, a bizarre news world created solely for the purpose of letting Will Ferrell run wild; Talladega Nights was about the world of race car drivers and, let’s face it, no one really cares about that so it wasn’t important if people could relate or not. But The Other Guys, well, people in general can understand it if they choose. The film is a brilliant parody of the buddy-cop movie with an actual story line. It may not be the most in-depth heist plot, but there’s a story there, not just a pastiche of hilarious improvisational skits.
It’s that oscillation between standard-cop-movie and outrageous Saturday-Night-Live-The-Good-Years-worthy hilarity that makes this movie so brilliant. Granted, I am a Will Ferrell fan. For non-believers, well, try to enjoy Wahlberg’s free-the-peacock performance and Michael Keaton’s portrayal of a police captain who works two jobs and blurts out information about his son that no one wants to know, all while quoting TLC and not knowing it.
Yes, at first, I forced myself to laugh more than necessary because it was a Ferrell/McKay movie. But the laughs grew as the movie continued: legitimate laughs. It was brilliant; have I mentioned that? A brilliant celebration of mediocrity – no, a celebration of all the normal people in the world, not the celebrities, not the rich and powerful, not the serendipitous, just all the other guys who do all the real work.?