It’s such a relief to see a wide-release, big-name comedy that isn’t about overgrown man-children that that fact alone almost justifies the existence of “The Other Guys.” Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg are the titular characters, cops who stay in the office while The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson, but I’ll always smell what the Rock’s cooking) and Samuel L. Jackson (aka Mace Wendo) are busy crashing cars into buses, shooting guns and jumping off of tall buildings. Which eventually kills them. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.
Will Farrell’s character likes paperwork. He hums as he types, most likely songs by the Little River Band. He gets excited about busting people for scaffolding violations (you know what, somebody needs to.) He is perfectly happy as a cop carrying a wooden gun. Wahlberg, on the other hand, is angry. Very angry. He accidentally shot Derek Jeter in the kneecap (you know what, somebody needs to) and is now known as “The Yankee Clipper.” He has been relegated to the desk across from Farrell’s, and he can’t stand the humming. Or the reports. Or watching the other guys get all the glory.
Directed by Adam McKay, who is becoming famous for just letting his actors improvise, “The Other Guys” goes off in six directions at once. Some of them are great. A few of them play too long, like Farrell’s gag about being a pimp named “Gator” in college, a section I’m sure many college-aged young men will be quoting for the next year or so, utterly unaware just how unfunny they are. For the most part, Farrell is very good, and usually funny, as a strait-laced guy who has no problem driving a Prius.
In the middle of the muddle is a real crime – a Ponzi scheme being run by Steve Coogan. It was brave of McKay to put a complicated crime like a Ponzi Scheme in the middle of a comedy cop caper; I’ll give him major kudos for that. In addition, it’s the kind of crime you need a cop of Farrell’s flavor to solve; the Rock would be clueless on this one. The ending credits run off a series of graphs that feel borrowed from a Michael Moore film. So maybe there’s a hidden message here; cops that drive Priuses are the kind we need in this day and age. The war on drugs is over; the war on Wall Street requires different recruitment procedures. There’s a reason why most FBI agents have accounting degrees.
But McKay isn’t really able to pull off a coherent plot involving a complicated financial crime, not with his principals improvising 80% of their scenes. I’m not sure anyone in the movie theater really understood what the villain was guilty of at the end of “The Other Guys;” he makes it work – or work better, at least, by making Coogan’s investors scary guys with guns and helicopters. That way we can still have the chase scene at the end of the movie, like we expect at the end of cop movies, even if we’re not sure who’s chasing who, or what, or why.
But that’s okay. Because we went to “The Other Guys” to see Will Farrell and friends goof around within the loose confines of a script. Cop capers rarely have plots that make much sense away, whether they’re about Ponzi schemes or drug lords or bank robberies or whatever. For the most part, “The Other Guys” delivers on its promise, meager as it may be. This may not be a funny movie, but it’s a movie with some really funny parts. And that’s more than can be said about most multiplex comedies.