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Any time you're laughing so hard at a movie that you miss other jokes, I count that as a mark of quality - and The Other Guys is a comedy that hits that mark early, and often. Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have not only matched but quite possibly surpassed the heights of their previous pinnacle, Anchorman, with a story (yeah, a real story) that delivers as a deconstruction of "supercop" conventions, an actual action movie, a social commentary, and a balls-out comedy, all at the same time. Endlessly quotable and gut-bustingly funny, The Other Guys offers one of Ferrell's all-time best performances, probably McKay's most cohesive film to date, and one of the most all-around satisfying comedies in years.
Ferrell plays Allen Gamble, a desk jockey whose reason for existence is to fill out the paperwork created by property-destroying gloryhound detectives like Danson (Dwayne Johnson) and Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson). But when a jewel heist explodes in a mass of mysterious crimes and cover-ups, Gamble's constantly, almost inexplicably furious partner Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) sees the investigation as an opportunity to "step up" and make a name for himself. Enlisting Allen more or less against his will, the duo soon uncovers a conspiracy to defraud some unlucky sucker of millions of dollars, and soon find themselves fighting against mysterious gunmen, corporate roadblocks, and especially the derision of their own peers as they try to crack the case.
Ferrell has played a number of buttoned-up bookworms in the past, but Allen is markedly different; in particular, he's no shrinking violet, and in fact harbors a secret history that doesn't merely produce a number of terrific, unexpected gags, but feeds into, of all things, his character development. He and McKay make a crucial decision for the film by empowering Allen to hold his own against Terry's self-important temper tantrums, and it seems to give Ferrell some fertile material to mine for both comedy and emotional substance. Mind you, there are no transformative moments here, and I'd be hard-pressed to defend the movie's dramatic gravitas, but the relationship between the two really does seem to mature throughout the movie and develop a chemistry that we not only enjoy but kind of care about.
Meanwhile, I wouldn't say that the film is especially well-directed – McKay's action scenes aren't going to threaten the careers of the Paul Greengrasses and Michael Bays of the movie world any time soon – but it is expertly assembled. As in his previous efforts, there are more than a few scenes that exist purely to pay off a joke or offer some bizarre aside, but as a whole, the set pieces and the comedy as a whole actually feels organic to the environment in which it exists. A fight during a funeral, for example, is weird, silly and sort of pathetically appropriate all at the same time; a car chase in a Toyota Prius actually says much about the character who owns it. It really seems as if McKay and Ferrell have found their sweet spot between self-aware reality and patent absurdity, and they mine the clichés of cop movies to such terrific effect that it never feels like a parody, it feels like one of those great cop movies that inspired it, but with more laughs.
Although with few exceptions I've always felt like Wahlberg has been underrated as an actor, and seems to have little patience for the kind of tomfoolery that Ferrell engages in on a regular basis, he's a perfect foil as Terry, playing the character's exasperated determination so straight that it work as both serious and comedic. It certainly helps that they give his character so many interesting flourishes – learning ballet, for example, but only so he could make fun of childhood playmates – but his constant consternation gives the movie its connection to the "real world" of other cop movies, and also transforms that cop-on-the-edge cliché into something, well, if not more substantive, then at the very least understandable.
The supporting cast is more than equal to the task of keeping up with the mismatched pair at the center of the story: Johnson and Jackson embody the cool unrealism of blockbuster supercops; Ray Stevenson is terrifically understated as the mysterious henchman that gets between Allen, Terry and the solution to the case; Steve Coogan is sufficiently unctuous as a corporate fatcat who's tied up in the jewels, money and secretive maneuvering; and Rob Riggle, Bobby Cannavale and Damon Wayans Jr. provide some particularly rich pushback as colleagues aiming to beat Terry and Allen to the top-cop crown.
But special mention must go to Eva Mendes as Allen's wife, Sheila, and Michael Keaton as Captain Gene Mauch; Mendes effortlessly combines sex appeal and comedic chops playing a woman who improbably (and hilariously) lets Allen constantly disparage her to-everyone-else shockingly hot appearance, while Keaton makes a glorious and overdue return to form as a police chief who moonlights as a Bed, Bath & Beyond manager and sort of ends up embodying the film's overall balance between and deconstructed self-seriousness and abject silliness.
But the bottom line is that The Other Guys is just amazingly funny, from one scene to the next, from one line to the next, and it really ranks as one of the best comedies in years. If nothing else, it features quite possibly the best song of the year, "Pimps Don't Cry," which had better show up on next year's Oscar telecast. But as a parody of cop movies, McKay and Ferrell's film works; as an action movie with more comedy than average, it also works. In short, The Other Guys just plain works, and what may work best is that you not only have to go back again to get all of the jokes, it's that you get to.