Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Recent Watches: The Other Guys (2010)

The buddy cop movie has been such an established part of the action genre for so long and so consistently that parodies must now exist. There have been a few over a years. When “The Other Guys” was announced, I wasn’t super excited. I’ve always found Adam McKay to be slightly overrated as a filmmaker. Will Ferrell is an inconsistent talent to say the least, who too frequently has fallen back on his usual, scream-y schtick. Mark Wahlberg, meanwhile, makes as many bad films as he does good film. “The Other Guys,” defying all these expectations, turned out to be a really interesting, multi-layered satire. It didn’t connect with audiences but quickly developed a following.

In a New York City police precinct, two cops rule: Highsmith and Danson. When the hero cops die unexpectedly though, the precinct is left looking for a new hero. That duo emerges from the office’s most disrespected members. Allen Gamble is a tightly-strung pencil pusher of questionable masculinity. Terry Hoitz, meanwhile, is probably demented and infamous for shooting a baseball player. The two form an unlikely partnership and uncover a corrupt corporate plot that nobody else can see.

On the surface, “The Other Guys” takes shot at typical action movie excess. This is evident in the beginning, when Samuel L. Jackson and the Rock play hyper-destructive supercops who are, despite the millions of dollars in damage they reap while pursuing common crime, are beloved by all. Eventually though, reality ensues when they attempt to leap from a twenty-story building into the bushes below. Thus, the movie’s main joke: That the heroes aren’t the superstar cops but the accountants and desk jockeys. This does not turn out to be the movie’s main target but, occasionally, it returns to these roots. Giant car chases erupt suddenly but shoot-outs do not go the way they are suppose to. The movie never stops showing how narrow-minded, disgustingly macho, and plain gross these attitudes would be in real life. Mostly, the movie really enjoys subverting traditional action movie expectations.

Another example of this: The movie’s villains are not indistinctly European bad guys with some evil plot. Instead, it’s something much closer to home: Big business. “The Other Guys” is actually a goofy, broad comedy about the wild abuse of power in the world of Wall Street. The villain is a billionaire who lost billions to an investor and has now cooked up a wildly illegal plot to pay that money back. There are shady Chechen and Nigerian investors he owes money too, a plot involving a robbery and the lottery, but his ultimate scheme boils down to this: Rip off the working class. It’s hard to laugh about this, and “The Other Guys” is surprisingly downbeat at times, but the film manages to engineer some solid chuckles from bleak material.

Some of the funniest things that happen in the film are odd-ball gags that don’t connect to either thematic concept. For example: Will Ferrell’s character is married to Eva Mendes, widely recognized as a very attractive woman. He fails to see this, to the bafflement of everyone around him. It becomes a reoccurring joke that the average looking Ferrell attracts disproportionately attractive woman. What is a funny nugget of an idea is built into the movie’s most gut-busting reoccurring gag. This involves extended flashbacks to college days, a dating service, an alter ego known as Gator, poison ivy, and a pimp’s inability to cry. To explain much more would ruin what is a really weird but inspired story turn.

How self-aware is Mark Wahlberg? It’s sometimes hard to tell. In “The Other Guys” at least, he seems amazingly in tune with his abilities. The character is a self-obsessed tough guy who is unsatisfied with his life. He sees everything through the lens of cop movie clich├ęs. (Nice, subtle gag: He has a framed poster of “Cobra” on his apartment wall.) He makes bizarre, confused metaphors, frequently involving peacocks. He shows surprising knowledge of dance, art, and music, all of which he learn ironically. He’s also obsessed with an ex-girlfriend, who really has her shit together but he can’t see that. All he sees are drugs and whores. I don’t know if Wahlberg is truly funny or if the script was perfectly written to use his pre-established screen persona to maximum comedic effect.

Then there’s stuff in the movie that is just weird and brilliant. Exhibit A: Michael Keaton as the police chief. He has a part time gig at Bed Bath & Beyond and sometimes gets the paperwork mixed up. He makes frequent references to his bisexual son. He peppers his dialogue with references to TLC songs but doesn’t realize he’s referencing something. What about the repeated skits involving homeless people having orgies in Will Ferrell’s Prius? Or the two cops being bribed with tickets to Broadway shows? Or the theft of shoes? Or a slow motion night of debauchery? Or an old lady being forced to say really naughty things? I could go on and on. There’s so much weird, funny, brilliant stuff in “The Other Guys.”

Which is maybe why it’s odd that there aren’t more laughs in “The Other Guys.” The movie is sometimes so cluttered, and the material so razor-sharp in its mean-spiritedness, that the audience isn’t sure when to laugh. However, I can’t help but admire this bug-nuts movie that throws in so many brilliant, amazing ideas and executes them with complete confidence. It’s a ballsy movie, a satire about corporate greed wrapped in an action movie parody served with a liberal topping of absurdity. [8/10]

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