From its balls-out opening (narrated by Ice-T, of course), “The Other Guys” plays with testosterone-injected, action-movie tropes, speeding up the editing while slowing down the fight sequences. But as easily as director Adam McKay makes the transition to action, he never entirely leaves his comic roots behind. Filled with comedic heavyweights, “The Other Guys” is an even match for “The Expendables,” going pound for pound with Sly Stallone‘s film in terms of star power. McKay sees you your Stallone, Willis, Li, , et al., and he’ll raise you Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Steve Coogan, and enough recognizable stars to challenge the SAG awards for wattage. By the time “Human Giant“‘s Rob Huebel makes an appearance in the second act, you’ll be tired of explaining to your less-educated movie mate who “that guy” is.
Detectives Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) live at their desks, fading into the shadows of rock star cops Highsmith (Jackson) and Danson (Johnson). While those two are out saving the city (and leaving destruction and paperwork in their wake), the less exciting cops at the precinct — the men of the title — are left to deal with the mundane details of police work. Terry bristles at his partner’s every twitch and hum, and he longs to get back into the action while Allen is content to remain desk-bound. They’re the butt of jokes by their fellow officers (Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr.) and a source of embarrassment for their captain (Keaton). However, when Allen’s background as an accountant helps him uncover evil — or at least an unfiled scaffolding permit — they may finally have their chance at solving crime on the streets of New York.
“The Other Guys” somehow manages to be both smarter and dumber than it should be, and it’s hard not to dissolve into giggles (or an unfortunate snort) at most of the jokes. McKay and co-writer Chris Henchy have written a funny, awesomely random script that’s surely bolstered by improv from the film’s cast. Gags are repeated and drawn out ’til they’re just shy of exhaustion (take note, “Dinner for Schmucks“), and the film and its humor go in multiple directions without getting tired until its last act, when a barrage of laughter turns into an occasional hiccup.
The plot details in “The Other Guys” are at once timely and silly, revolving around Coogan’s multibillionaire businessman’s shady dealings and its impact on the everyman. The film’s climax is appropriately ridiculous and the end credits are an artfully-designed — if intentionally out of place amidst the sex jokes and inanity — education on financial schemes. With anyone else at the helm, it might seem like the filmmakers were following their action-movie blueprint a bit too faithfully and thoughtlessly, but McKay and Co. seem to know exactly what they’re doing. Plots — especially the needlessly complex ones involving corrupt corporate overlords — are often just there to add some semblance of structure to the string of explosions and car chases.
Ferrell is, unsurprisingly, solid here, turning in a performance that is a perfect mix of awkward and off-kilter. He’s great at delivering dialogue, but he always remains fully devoted to his characters, and he’s more an actor than a simple comedian. This is Wahlberg’s first great lead role since at least “We Own the Night” (and possibly going all the way back to “Boogie Nights“). Usually, he gets top billing in second-tier action movies and dramas (“Max Payne, “Shooter,” “The Happening“), but it’s his comedic supporting performances in films such as “The Departed” and “I Heart Huckabees” that allow him to shine. “The Other Guys” is the perfect meld of his off-screen persona with his on-screen ability to make the audience laugh, and he’s just as funny as Ferrell, but we have no trouble believing he can kick some bad-guy ass.
“The Other Guys” marks the fourth full-length feature collaboration between McKay and Ferrell, and it’s their funniest since “Anchorman.” If you think these lines are good now (they are), we’re sure they’ll lose some of their luster after you’ve heard a fratty bar patron quoting them while he chugs his Sam Adams. Much of the charm derives from the talented cast and their delivery, but we won’t judge you if you do a drunken spit-take the first time someone does his best Ferrell impression. [B+]