Comedy is always a tough sell across the broad spectrum of moviegoers. It’s hard to know what people are going to find funny. Audiences that prefer wit may not laugh at slapstick and vice versa. Furthermore, audiences aren’t always satisfied with just a snappy one-liner or a person falling down stairs, so tastes further splinter within each genre of comedy, rendering funny movies more or less a crapshoot. The logical answer is the buckshot approach and offer a little something for everybody, which is precisely what The Other Guys does. As such, the film is remarkably successful and only sacrifices a small portion of its pacing and story in doing so.
Detectives Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne Johnson) are hero cops in New York City. They risk their lives in over-the-top stunts, drive flashy cars and say their lines with cinematic gusto. Their sense of action-hero invincibility catches up with them, however, and they end up dying in pursuit of thieves, leaving large shoes in the police department to fill. Detectives Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) and Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) are two such aspiring officers. Unfortunately for them, they’re despised within the department for various reasons. Gamble is a sycophant and his position as a Forensic Financial Analyst gets no respect. Hoitz accidentally shot Derek Jeter. As partners they try to escape their bad reputations by breaking their first big case, involving a man named David Ershon (Steve Coogan) and his lack of scaffolding permits.
The story actually isn’t important in enjoying The Other Guys since the comedy is all over the place. The film sets up a surreal universe where hot shot cops yell lines, like “You have the right to remain silent, but I want to hear you scream!” And just when the audience adjusts to this reality, the film subverts that expectation with irony. That comedic formula remains constant throughout the film and is mostly successful. Unfortunately, the comedy does fall back on random absurdity as a crutch a little too often. Consider the extended scene discussing the orgy a group of bums had in Gamble’s Toyota Prius. It’s humorously disgusting, but completely irrelevant to the story, which suffers towards the end because the filmmakers felt the need to insert random, unnecessary “funny” scenes that only serve to slow the pacing of the film.
The best part about the The Other Guys is that most audience members will find themselves chuckling even if the particular joke or gag wasn’t their brand of comedy. The humor is so broad that someone in the audience will be laughing, causing other viewers to relax their standards and loosen up. High-minded viewers may warm up to Ferrell’s bumbling humor if others are laughing, while average viewers will laugh at jokes about the SEC to fit in with the high-minded crowd. Watching the film alone, however, might be a different – and much quieter – story altogether. So bring some friends, because this is a group experience.
What makes The Other Guys work on a level above other comedies is that everyone in the cast knows how to be funny within the context of the film. Special consideration goes to Michael Keaton as police captain Gene Mauch. Keaton plays the role as a self-aware cliché and takes pride in saying his corny lines, never taking himself too seriously. Will Ferrell reprises his well-meaning nincompoop, but to a lesser degree here than in other films. While audiences have seen this character from Ferrell before, it works perfectly here when coupled with Mark Wahlberg’s straight-man performance. His Terry Hoitz is the ubiquitous maladjusted, leather-clad, brooding detective found in every cop drama, but his 100% commitment opens up all manner of comedic opportunities as he airs his absurd complaints about his partner, like feminine sounding urine and the unmanly farts.
The Other Guys is a very rare case in the comedy genre in that its gags often go a little too long and stop being funny. But rather than quit while behind, the filmmakers hang in there until the gags amazingly become funny again, which they usually do. So if your year hasn’t given you much to smile about let alone laugh, go see The Other Guys for a good time. It’s easily some of the best comedy you’ll find in theaters this summer.