One of the funnier scenes in Michael Moore’s last intentionally funny polemic, Bowling for Columbine, imagined NYPD officers chasing down shirtless Wall Street criminals for a show called Corporate Cops. Will Ferrell’s new movie The Other Guys is essentially an expansion of this skit except, you know, it’s a Will Ferrell movie.
The comedy’s anti-financial-speculation thread emerges gradually—Ferrell has an inspired deadpan bit where he tells a Federal Reserve Board regulator that his agency has been on top of things with a few exceptions, and then proceeds to count off every one of those exceptions—but only bursts into full blossom with the closing credits, a handsomely animated Harper’s Index of post-bailout outrages. There’s something almost brave about these charts—sure, audiences are sub-primed to be angry at the fat cats, but this may be the first time multiplex audiences have been confronted with arguments for corporate and banking regulations. The Other Guys’ buffoonery contains a kernel of authentic outrage.
If the closing charts don’t quite emerge seamlessly from the movie that came before, well, nothing in Adam McKay’s movies emerges seamlessly. In his projects with Ferrell (Anchorman, Step Brothers), the director has honed a comedy of the non sequitur: Most of his jokes take an abrupt turn, and the best ones come unmoored from any context at all, flying away like a parasailor who let go of the tow rope.
The Other Guys doesn’t have an especially promising premise—two scorned desk jockeys (Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) languish in the shadow of celebrity detectives (Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson)—but it shows just how laxly committed it is to that concept almost immediately, when Jackson and Johnson make a hilariously abrupt departure from the movie. Only in retrospect does that spectacular exit look an awful lot like the insane hubris of Bear Stearns, right before its securities hit the pavement.
Thus loosed, The Other Guys advances in fits and starts; its funniest scenes come in the second act, where most comedies tend to flag. My favorite moments include Ferrell singing bawdy English a capella pub dirges for no apparent reason, and Wahlberg confronting his ex-girlfriend in a tony Manhattan ballet studio: “If you were with me, you wouldn’t be in this strip club, shaking it for money!”
The only through-line holding the somewhat overloaded movie together is Wahlberg’s slow-boiling rage, a barely controlled umbrage that looks like it’s taking years off his pension. (I mean it as a compliment to the actor when I say his performance plays like nobody told him the movie was a comedy.) Wahlberg’s little-man complex grows until it feels like a fit for our own national indignation.
The Other Guys
Directed by Adam McKay
With Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Samuel L Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, and Derek Jeter
Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14