A lot of ink has been spilled, both electronic and actual, on Judd Apatow’s mastery of the Hollywood comedy game. But here’s the thing: Judd Apatow is kind of an awful director. His movies are long, mostly aimless, and often paint women in an altogether unflattering light. And yet he’s lionized as some icon. An icon of boring movies, maybe. But one of his protégés, Adam McKay, has been making movies that are sweetly surreal and always engaging, in bold ways that Apatow’s films never are. If you’ve seen ‘Anchorman,’ ‘Talladega Nights,’ or (particularly) ‘Step Brothers,’ you know what kind of cracked genius McKay is. His new movie is just as wonderfully weird. Ladies and gentlemen… ‘The Other Guys!’
‘The Other Guys’ opens with narration by none other than badass mofo Ice-T. He gives us a brief introduction to a pair of take-no-prisoners New York City cops (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson). These are the guys that bust bad guys and look good doing it, no matter the amount of property damage inflicted. But the movie is not about these guys, it’s about… the other guys, played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. These are the guys who spend most of the day sitting behind a desk, filing reports, and occasionally getting into disagreements with their superior (wonderfully played by Michael Keaton). Things start to pick up for the duo when Ferrell discovers that a large company, run by the villainous Steve Coogan, hasn’t been filing proper reports for scaffolding. From there, we get a dizzying (too much so) mystery plot involving the current financial crisis, with intermittent bouts of yelling and/or high octane action sequences.
McKay, who equipped himself nicely with the racing scenes in ‘Talladega Nights,’ does a convincing job of mimicking the beats of big screen action entertainments while adding his deliberately skewered take. (The movie was photographed by Oliver Wood, who shot ‘Face/Off‘ for crying out loud.) Action sequences often erupt out of the most innocuous of places, and McKay keeps the pace going nicely. A lot of the movie was shot on location in New York City, which also adds some nice authenticity.
The film is at its best when it gets caught up in its own silliness. Scenes that have little to do with the actual mystery plot are often the most fun, like when the two detectives unwittingly accept a series of bribes. The financial corruption angle is kind of nice, as is a series of graphics over the closing credits which show just how corrupt America is. (McKay is a noted lefty who frequently blogs for ‘The Huffington Post’ and staged the blistering George W. Bush Broadway show with Ferrell.) The cast is uniformly excellent. This is the funniest Wahlberg has been since ‘I Heart Huckabees.’ (‘The Happening‘ doesn’t count). The supporting cast is rounded out by Eva Mendes as Ferrell’s supernaturally hot wife. She’s both sexy and funny, a rare combo indeed. Oh, and it should be noted that composer and producer Jon Brion does a great job with the music.
I’m still processing the movie in my mind in terms of where it ranks in the McKay/Ferrell canon. It certainly isn’t the bizarre mindfuck that ‘Step Brothers’ was, but it might be more subversive. It’s one thing to just be outwardly weird. It’s another thing to package it as an accessible action comedy. For those of us that made the terrible mistake of seeing ‘Cop Out‘ in the theaters, this is proof that great buddy cop homage movies still do exist. Just ask for McKay.