One day, I hope the Smithsonian has an exhibit that features the brain of Adam McKay in a jar, because I truly think his grey matter is a national treasure.
He has a relatively short filmography as a director, and each of his four feature films seems to me to be a further exploration of certain types of characters and conversations. “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights,” “Step Brothers,” and now “The Other Guys”… McKay is drawn to characters living these outsized lives, turned to their very own radios. He’s explored the psyche of the wildly successful jackass in his first two films, and with “Step Brothers,” he examined the permanently arrested jackass. One would expect, then that “The Other Guys” is just a new variation on the same thing, giving the jackass a gun this time. But since one of the first things the movie does is take away one character’s gun, even that isn’t quite what you’re going to get. Just when you think he’s going to zig, McKay just made a major zag.
Allen (Will Ferrell) and Terry (Mark Wahlberg) are neither wildly successful nor complete failures. They’re not bumblers or idiots… they just have that tunnel vision that is so particular to McKay’s characters. They’re not mismatched partners in the typical cop movie sense, in that they’re not compliments to each others strengths, they’re not wisecracking-and-tough-guy… it’s just not that easy. They have a captain, but he’s not constantly yelling at them and chewing them out. “The Other Guys” seems to be determined to avoid cop movie cliches simply by being true to the quiet insanity of the two main characters and the world around them.
This is pretty much the comic opposite of Kevin Smith’s “Cop Out,” which embraced those cliches to depressingly familiar effect. Every time you think you know where the film is heading, McKay and his co-writer Chris Henchy throw some crazy left-turn, leading to that uncommon sort of comedy that is just as funny in act three as it is in act one, where plot never gets in the way of the laughs. McKay’s characters are just as weird and extreme at the end of the film as they are at the start, if not more so.
Allen and Terry are invisible men, and the film isn’t really about them solving a big case so much as it’s about them trying to find their voices, some way to stop being invisible. Allen is a fascinating riff on the typical Ferrell character. He’s fairly buttoned-down at the start of the film, and McKay spends the rest of the film peeling back that staid surface to reveal more and more of Allen’s inner freak. Terry, who would be the tough guy partner in most versions of this film, is far stranger than that, and I love the realizations that hit him over the course of the movie. Eva Mendes, who plays Allen’s wife Dr. Shiela, doesn’t even disguise her inner freak, playing full-on mad from the moment she appears. Ferrell, Wahlberg, and Mendes attack the material like hungry people at a buffet, relishing every single bit of crazy they’re asked to play.
The supporting cast is just as good. Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson play the stereotypical super cops who Allen and Terry idolize, and they feel like they’ve stepped in from another much dumber movie, which is absolutely pitch perfect. Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr. play a rival pair of detectives in the precinct, and just like Allen and Terry, they’re determined to step up and be the main guys when Johnson and Jackson are put out of commission. And most delightfully, Michael Keaton plays Captain Gene Mauch, Terry and Allen’s supervisor, and between his moonlighting at Bed Bath & Beyond and his fondness for TLC lyrics, he’s really not any police captain I’ve seen in one of these films before. It’s been a great year for Keaton, between this and “Toy Story 3,” a real reminder of just how laser-sharp his timing is, and how great he can be at bringing a character to life. Steve Coogan has the most thankless job in the film, and he manages to make his bad guy role, burdened with most of the plot mechanics, into a lovely lesson in smarm. Even in small roles, guys like Bobby Cannavale and Rob Huebel come in and kill it.
And keep an eye out for McKay’s cameo. Carefully, or you might end up in a soup kitchen with Dirty Mike and the Boys, and that would be very, very unfortunate.
“The Other Guys” will not teach you anything. It will not better you as a human being. What it will do is make you laugh very, very hard for just shy of two hours, which is exactly what I wanted from it. By that standard, “The Other Guys” is one of the best films of the summer.
“The Other Guys” opens everywhere August 6.
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