Stop the press! Multimillionaire actors unite to skewer deep-pocketed bureaucrats and billion-dollar blowouts! Does Adam McKay’s The Other Guys herald the end of Hollywood’s age of excess? Hmm, not quite. After all, this is a $100 million action comedy that pokes equal amounts of fun at the financial credit crisis as it does the music of TLC. James Cameron and Michael Bay can sleep easy knowing their next film will not have a mumblecore-sized budget as a result of McKay’s latest. The Other Guys is a very funny flick, but zeitgeist-capturing satire it ain’t. It’s only slightly harder on its wealthy targets than, say, Trading Places.
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg star as a couple of desk-jockey detectives who stumble upon a Wall Street conspiracy being orchestrated by a snivelling multi-billionaire (played by Steve Coogan). There is already more of a story in that one sentence than in McKay and Ferrell’s three previous collaborations combined (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers). But the plot is merely propulsion; an excuse for Ferrell and Wahlberg to riff and rip on one another. When they do, the film is electric. But I’d be lying if I said I was any more interested in the machinations of this film’s plot than I was with Anchorman’s “panda pregnancy” storyline.
Ferrell is Detective Allen Gamble, a straight-laced forensic accountant who is supportive of his co-workers (despite their constant ridicule), content with his “homely” wife (a warmly funny Eva Mendes) and believes paperwork to be the height of excitement. Wahlberg’s Detective Terry Hoitz is the poor soul saddled with Gamble as desk buddy. He dreams of becoming a hot-shot action hero much like the stars of their New York precinct: Danson (Dwayne Johnson) and Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson). However, a past indiscretion keeps Hoitz in the Captain’s bad books (Michael Keaton) and doomed to serve eternity with his paper-pushing partner.
The idea of seeing a flustered Wahlberg butt heads with a sweetly oblivious Ferrell for ninety minutes is plenty enticing. Wahlberg isn’t particularly known for his work in comedy (The Happening jokes aside), but in each of his best roles (Boogie Nights, I Heart Huckabees, The Departed) he’s shown off rather in-tune comic timing. Here, he’s funnier than ever, and the best thing about the film by far. Ferrell has always been a generous performer, allowing his co-stars to join him in an improvised riff, or to even step aside completely and let them take the limelight. And although he’s hilarious as always here, he seems quite content to allow Wahlberg, Mendes and even Coogan to take the film’s funniest lines. His unassuming character sits back and enjoys the show with the rest of us.
The Other Guys, co-written by McKay and Chris Henchy (Land of the Lost, Entourage), isn’t quite as quote-laden as Anchorman (or Talladega Nights, or Step Brothers). That’s not to say the film is beholden to its flimsy plot. McKay allows his performers plenty of room to breathe, and improvised (or at least improvised-seeming) conversations occur as per usual. But there seems to have been a concerted decision behind the scenes to put together a proper film this time around, and not just a collection of non sequiturs. The price? Well, The Other Guys is McKay’s best crafted film so far, but also his least funny. It’s still a thigh-slapper; it just doesn’t quite meet the absurd heights of his previous works.
I’ve not spoken at length about the film’s supposed “dig” at the fat cats responsible for the global credit crunch, mainly because the film doesn’t really go out of its way to satirize them too vehemently. They’re used merely as a plot device. A shame really, because the comically-tragic extent of the greed that led to international financial collapse is ripe for mockery. This makes the film’s closing credits somewhat jarring: a PowerPoint-style tutorial on how Ponzi Schemes work, and handy visual guides to just how much money was spent/wasted during the whole torrid affair. All the statistics are handy to know, but is it really the place of a silly comedy to educate audiences? What it really teaches us is that documentarians, dramatic filmmakers and satirists need to step up their game and make some films about the GFC. You’ve left McKay and Ferrell to do it all by themselves! They’ve got goofy comedies to make! And considering the state of the world at the moment, we need these guys to focus on making us laugh.
The Other Guys arrives in Australian cinemas September 9th.