***originally written 3 October 2010***
The consistently funny American comedy movie is, really, pretty rare. There just aren’t that many of them. There are a whole bunch that come close, or have one particular sequence that sticks in the mind (There’s Something About Mary‘s dog-revival scene for instance), but very few seem to work all the way through. Or, at least, that’s been my experience. The number drops even more if we’re talking about comedy movies of the last decade or so. All too often the American movie-making machine has recently opted for either gross-out (now boring) or parody (always boring). But in 2004 there was Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Will Ferrell had been bubbling around from a while with noteworthy cameos in such films as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but Anchorman was his coming-out party, and that rarified thing; the consistently funny American comedy movie. Sure, it celebrated dumbness, and celebrating dumbness is something I grow increasingly tired of, but it did it so well, and has quickly become one of the most quotable films of all time. Since then Ferrell has struggled to find a vehicle to match it, and has had a go at playing relatively serious too. The Other Guys sees him reunited with Anchorman director Adam Mackay. That’s the only reason I went to see this movie really. In case the magic was back. And because the trailer made me laugh.
Well first off, most of the best jokes in the trailer are not in the movie, instead replaced by less-funny improv lines. Secondly, we’re in parody land here. Uh-oh. This time of that much-loved sub-genre, the buddy cop movie. To be fair, The Other Guys is far from a disaster. But it is quite a bit shy of a success.
Ferrell is partnered with Mark Wahlberg, who has been benched to a deskjob after shooting a famous baseball player. They are ‘the other guys’; the ones you see in the background whilst the action focuses on the ‘heroes’. The heroes in this case are Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, hamming it up as the superhero cops of so many terrible action movies, and with some questionable CGI these movies are sent up excellently.When they die an incredibly stupid death (with more questionable CGI), it’s up to someone else to step-up to the plate and be the heroes. Wharlberg wants it to be them.
Unfortunately the movie decides to play this out with a terribly boring embezzlement plot, which makes no use of Steve Coogan as a slimy Wall Street type (honestly, the man needs to stop trying to break America). In fact the movie seems to have an ulterior motive, the end credits playing out with a stream of very-serious statistics about fraud cases. It seems like an odd platform for lecturing. Anyway, the two of them decide to tackle this case and a variety of funny and less-funny situations ensue.
Most of the best lines, and the best comedy, comes from Ferrell, mining his dependable but still funny ability to loudly describe why things are funny. If you don’t find that amusing, then turn away immediately. Wahlberg, who the same year as Anchorman surprised with a hilarious and ferociously committed performance in I Heart Huckabees plays the straight man here, his character so consumed by random expressions of anger and frustration that you never really warm to him. Some of the time this works as he riffs on Ferrell’s naivety, but some of the time he just comes off as mean. In fact, the more I think about it, the more The Other Guys missed the buddy part out of the buddy cop movie. To the end, these guys are only backing each other up because they’re expected to.
Some of the notable supporting cast get nice if sadly-small roles. Eva Mendes as Ferrell’s wife is stuck with something of a one-trick gag (but one that gets hammered to death), and Michael Keaton is priceless as their superior who also works at Bed Bath And Beyond, and who unwittingly quotes TLC lyrics. It would have been nice to have seen more of him.
Ultimately The Other Guys never quite finds it’s stride. It’ll make you snicker or giggle a little bit here and there, but it’s not consistently funny. And nearly a week after seeing it, I can’t even pinpoint a standout sequence. It’s not a bad movie. It’s just unexceptional.