The Other Guys might be the closest thing to a message movie Will Ferrell will ever make. As goofy as Guys looks and, well, actually is a lot of the time, it could also be one of the more absurd Michael Moore documentaries. By the time the movie ends with an outrageous credits sequence (here “outrageous” means to cause outrage), it convinces you that the outrageous movie that preceded it (here “outrageous” means funny) was slight-of-hand in a way.
I don’t want to oversell The Other Guys because then I’d be running a kind of critical Ponzi scheme. This is a gooftastic Will Ferrell and Adam McKay movie, as in “Man they just don’t make comedies anymore like those old Will Ferrell and Adam McKay movies,” which is a sentence you’ll definitely be hearing in 20 years or so, depending on how much longer Ferrell and his faithful co-writer and director McKay can keep making these movies. As it goes, The Other Guys will have an interesting place in the Gary Sanchez pantheon (Sanchez is the duo’s production house). In a way, it’s Ferrell responding to the criticism that he can only play mildly talented angry doofuses with lots of bravado and usually a sports team. Here, his Detective Allen Gamble is a different creature — a happily mundane mild-mannered desk cop who lives to file paperwork. All the angry bravado is left to his partner, Mark Wahlberg’s Terry Hoitz, who might be Mark Wahlberg in an alternate reality where his testosterone was never released in fame and success.
The Other Guys, unlike other Sanchez works, has a plot. It’s not that it’s all that compelling, intricate, or sense-making while it spools out, but by movie’s end you realize it was necessary, as perhaps for the first time amongst their flicks, this one has a message. Hurry — what were Anchorman or Talledega Nights about really? Yeah, not much. And Step Brothers was pretty thin too, though in its own way it was about something not quietly going into that good night of quiet, ho-hummed adult living, let’s say…but you kind of had to squeeze that out.
Asshole-tearing Rage-induced credits (Rage capitalized since the credits feature Rage Against The Machine’s fantastic cover of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”) leave no doubt that, on some level, The Other Guys is about the perhaps outright evil of our current economic situation and its perpetrators and their bastardry of the highest order. The Other Guys is really about us — the other guys — the Ponzi’ed few and the others, many who reach into the backpacks of our bank accounts and don’t find not just a golden parachute but any parachute to speak of. I like to stay informed. I watch Meet The Press. I read articles with big words where I find them, and I stare very contemplatively at Newsweek. I’m telling you, these five minutes at the end of this ridiculous comedy are about the best explanation, to me, of why everything kind of sucks right now. When you pair it with the 90-plus minutes of punchlines before it, you realize that this is a “laugh so you don’t cry” movie, but also a movie that champions the “main street” we hear our politicians talking about so much (a.k.a. us), but it’s got the outrage in both senses of the term I used to entertain us and empathize with us. Barack’s poll numbers are down right now, and the COD’s of the GOP (confederacy of dunces) are able to crassly mock “hopey changey stuff,” but in a way, Barack’s hands are tied because, as a politician, at least nowadays, he’s not entitled to outrage and he’s not allowed the pointed and intelligent weapon that can be humor. More people might trust Jon Stewart because he has the power of satire; more people might trust Glenn Beck because they don’t get the joke.
The Other Guys, honestly, with debatable effectiveness until it takes us to school at the end, aims to wield the bruising power and truth of the punchline…or — and props to it if this was McKay and Ferrell’s aim — to sneak it past us until the end by masking the movie as another Ferrell yuckathon.
Lately, Anchorman is being regarded more and more as a comedy classic by some disembodied consensus that makes decisions on these matters. Well, I’m cool with that, and although The Other Guys might not be as overtly funny or carelessly irreverent, if the consensus so decides, I think I’d like to see more Ferrell movies like this one, where at least some of the laughs, or some of the reason the movie is even there to begin with, sits in the gut and not just the funny bone. The Other Guys will, or should, make you feel something.
Practically speaking, the movie is about a slimy investor who’s doing the shell game bit with billions of dollars, and Ferrell and Wahlberg are two background schmoes who sit at desks in the shadows of Lethal Weapon-esque super-cops who drive around New York making lots of noise and explosions until they get their chance to step up. And hilarity does ensue. Bits about Ferrell’s wife (Eva Mendes), their chief (Michael Keaton, having a good summer after voicing Ken in Toy Story 3), accidental pop culture references, and Ferrell’s dark past as a man named “Gator” are all great. Wahlberg is a great actor because I never felt like he was trying to be funny or to be a tough guy in a comedy, like these bits sometimes go. I actually bought his character. And the partnership between him and Ferrell, Ferrell not mugging like he usually does in some of his other roles, is unlikely but successful. The buddy-cop action pic parody elements work pretty well, but not as good as just Ferrell and Wahlberg riffing or getting into skit-like situations. It’s all about as good as these movies have gone, and they usually play better later on DVD or in a rerun on TBS you catch with your boys on a slow afternoon.
I’m gonna remember The Other Guys for it’s reflective absurdity. In 20 years, when people are ranking the old Ferrell/McKay go-rounds, they might look at The Other Guys and its depiction of the times like a picture of you at a party in the ’80s. You’re a wreck. You’re all bent up on the floor in acid-washed denim and a neon wind jacket and frizzed hair. Your eyes are rolling back and you’re holding steady to a bottle of Schnapps with dribble coming out of your mouth. “Ah!” you say, looking back. “Were things really that bad/crazy?” The caveat is, fortunately, you can laugh about it, but the answer is, unfortunately, yes.