Film Review: The Other Guys

Smart, funny send-up of buddy-cop movies wields wit and satire even while cars crash, storefronts explode, and Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg exchange jibes as eager police partners pursuing big prey.

A surprisingly witty satire of buddy-cop movies—not a parody, not The Naked Gun—this fourth pairing of Will Ferrell and co-writer/director Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers) punctures the testosterone bags of a zillion buddy and even lone-wolf cop movies, one or two of which have even featured co-star Mark Wahlberg.

The Other Guys
is not the first movie to make sport of such tropes as the mid-movie heart-to-heart where one cop/adventurer/mercenary solemnly spills his backstory trauma to his partner—check out the minor gem Gunmen (1994), where Mario Van Peebles and Christopher Lambert do the solider-of-fortune version—but few have nailed the tone as well as this, with action, archetypes and plot twists all just accentuated enough to wink at you without doing a big, muggy nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Ferrell is a ruler when it comes to playing it straight, and he rules here.

The former “Saturday Night Live” standout plays NYPD Detective Allen Gamble, a button-down forensic accountant, the kind of cop who sniffs out who cooked the books. (I'm New York nitpicking here, but they don't go after scaffolding violations like Gamble does; that's the Department of Buildings.) His partner, Detective Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg), is a trigger-happy loose cannon with nothing to lose. It’s a classic setup, and they start having fun with it almost immediately when action-man Hoitz, fed up with his Prius-driving partner, explodes at Gamble with a macho rant about being a lion while Gamble's a tuna fish—and rather than meekly take it, Gamble responds with self-confident, loony logic that shuts Hoitz down.

The Other Guys is filled with such straight-faced diatribes and asides, and if it's not as dry-witted as "Barney Miller," it uses its bigger, broader canvas wonderfully well. Three words: golfers vs. helicopters. Yeah, I know how that sounds. And you know what? In the big-action context of the scene, it totally works.

The convoluted plot—which at one point even shrewdly jabs at the SEC—concerns a Ponzi-scheming billionaire Brit (comedian Steve Coogan) who, to appease a dragon-lady creditor (an uncredited Anne Heche) and other investors, must engineer a scam of Madoffian proportions. Gamble and Hoitz, who want to fill the shoes of two legendary cops (Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson), stumble onto this white-collar web and soon—of course—their captain (a great Michael Keaton) is telling them to back off, rival cops (Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans, Jr. and Bobby Cannavale) are taunting them, and even Gamble's unexpectedly beautiful wife (Eva Mendes) may be in danger. Every move, every pose, every two-fisted gun-firing you've ever seen in a cop movie since the 1980s gets knowingly reprised here. Let's not forget catchphrases: In one scene, a poster of Sylvester Stallone's Cobra (1986) proclaims, "Crime is a disease. Meet the cure." Whereas Hoitz proclaims, "I am a peacock! You gotta let me fly!"

Like last year's The Hangover, this dumb movie is pretty damn smart. And funny.