Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Other Guys convinced me that director Adam McKay and star Will Ferrell have a masterpiece in them. This isn’t it. The film is often very amusing, the action is standard cop flick, and the parody is somewhere between Bruno and The Blind Side. But The Other Guys is also surprisingly smart and even more pissed off. If you’ve been waiting for someone to confront the financial meltdown, Will Ferrell’s your guy.
He plays your typical straight-laced accountant, but as an active-duty detective partnered with the pent up Napoleon complex known as Mark Wahlberg. It’s a match made in comedy heaven, but in the jockish milieu of action movie cops, they’re benchwarmers to superstars Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock, both very funny. As happens in cop movies, hijinks ensue and suddenly Ferrell and Wahlberg have a real doozy of a case, one that springs out of real policework, i.e. sitting at your desk and researching crimes, not breaking down doors and knocking heads. Somebody’s been watching The Wire.
Like I said, much of The Other Guys is what you expect from buddy cops, but with silly digressions for Will Ferrell to unleash his brand of comic absurdism. I can’t tell you what I’d give for someone to find a new way to present a car chase, but McKay has his moments, as in a suspended animation panorama through a crazy night out. The movie’s way more hit than miss, but it’s also pretty expected, and you don’t want me spoiling the jokes anyway.
Where The Other Guys takes off is its little sparks of trenchancy. McKay and co-screenwriter Chris Henchy are indiscriminate about their gunfire, joking about tabloid gossip crowding out serious journalism, silently observing the misplaced priorities of a city whose police captain needs a night job, tossing off a line about the increasingly undeniable assessment of college as grown-up babysitting, and more. But this is just cover fire.
The primary assault targets everything wrong with the financial meltdown. Our would-be villain promotes excess, the media calls his arrest “financial profiling,” and his victims actively abet him. The film bares its teeth for the SEC: “From what I understand, you guys are the best at these kinds of investigations, outside of Enron, AIG, Bernie Madoff, Worldcom, Bear-Stearns . . .” As for us: “Turn on the news, man. Nobody cares.”
But the undercurrent of Glenn Beckian fury is actually couched in a hopeful tone, like Ferrell’s nice guy persona obscuring rage issues. Ultimately, this is a film honoring the other guys, you and me and 95% of the rest of us. The film doesn’t indict us for not exerting our minuscule power. It reminds us that, together, we do have the power to change the world. Early in the movie, Ferrell suggests an alternative to violently subduing petty criminals while the real parasites wrap themselves in golden parachutes: “What about 9 million socially conscious citizens stepping up to do their part?” What an idea.