Adam McKay (Will Ferrell's creative partner and the director of Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, and Anchorman) is angry. He's sick of corporate malfeasance, Ponzi schemes, and government bailouts. He's so mad that he's decided to make a movie about it. But instead of getting on a soap box, he's using his weapon of choice: crazy comedy. He's enlisted some major league help, including Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Anne Heche, Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton, and even Derek Jeter. And it appears his rage has given him focus, as The Other Guys is both McKay's and Ferrell's best film sinceAnchorman, and also the closest McKay has yet come to forging a real narrative.
Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) aren't super cops. In fact, they're the bane of the NYPD. Gamble is a pencil pusher, following trails of un-filed paperwork and other minor infractions. Hoitz, on the other hand, is a highly trained and dangerous individual, but due to an accidental shooting of Derek Jeter while at a baseball game, he's stuck partnered with Gamble. When the city's actual supercops (Sam Jackson and Dwayne Johnson in hilariously over the top roles) jump off a building in an attempt to catch some diamond thieves, it leaves an opening in the department that Hoitz wants to exploit. To that end, the two go after David Ershon (Steve Coogan), an investment mogul who has been losing money left and right and who the pair believe is in the midst of a massive Ponzi scheme, even though it goes against the wishes of the DA and their own captain (Michael Keaton).
The Other Guys is a bizarre piece of cinema. It's clear that McKay is genuinely annoyed at the state of financial affairs in the world today, because The Other Guys is the most focused film he's ever made. It's also clear that McKay still loves the kind of off-the-wall humor that's made him and Will Ferrell famous, becauseThe Other Guys is pretty weird for a mainstream comedy. Homeless sex orgies in a Prius, flying peacocks, a police captain who can't stop quoting TLC, the movie is a strange piece of work. However, compared to Talladega Nights or Step Brothers, it's downright demure. A lot of that can be attributed to Will Ferrell's portrayal of Allen Gamble. In general, when Ferrell stars in a film, he plays a giant overconfident buffoon. It's become disappointingly one-note as his career has progressed. Here, Ferrell plays Gamble as an overly meek, play it safe at any cost kind of guy. It's a refreshing change of pace that allows Ferrell to play a real character instead of a caricature. Further, the fact that the film is grounded in a solid police procedural helps sell the outrageous moments, as they are now a counterpoint instead of the meat of the film.
Mark Wahlberg is also an excellent comedic asset, delightfully jumping in to the insanity with both feet. He plays Hoitz to the hilt, making a perfect counterpoint to Ferrell's restraint. The two are a match made in comedy heaven, each partner bringing out the best in the other. The rest of the cast is strong, with Steve Coogan doing a great job of being in over his head, and it's always nice to see Michael Keaton back in a comedic role. A friend of mine described Sam Jackson and Dwayne Johnson's involvement as "The most entertainment per minute that they've ever provided," and I am inclined to agree with that statement. Eva Mendes is hilariously sincere as Gamble's put-upon wife. The movie relies more on running jokes than many of Ferrell's film, but they're carefully chosen for maximum impact.
The Other Guys is hilarious, but more importantly, it's the first step forward McKay and Ferrell have taken in ten years. The film is well-cast, well written, bizarre, but ultimately really funny. I can only hope that this is the start of a new phase in McKay and Ferrell's careers, as prior to The Other Guys, their schtick was getting really old.