“The Other Guys,” like almost every good pic in which Will Ferrell has starred, is a vehicle for his comic genius. The plot is preposterous. There is adequate vulgarity to please teenage boys. The jokes are broad — so broad that they are farcical, and several of them are running gags. Pic marks the first pairing of Ferrell with Mark Wahlberg. It’s a happy combination. The pair have the chemistry of classic comedy teams such as Laurel & Hardy, Abbot & Costello, and Martin & Lewis. Ferrell and Wahlberg are NYPD detectives Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz. They are an unlikely pair, even for a buddy-pic comedy. Gamble is a forensic accountant. Hoitz is best known as the cop who shot Derek Jeter by mistake (who appears in a cameo) and cost New York a World Series. The punchline is, “You couldn’t have shot A-Rod?” Hoitz is the little macho sparkplug, full of anger at himself and embarrassed to be partnered with Gamble, whose chipper attitude annoys him. Michael Keaton is the precinct captain, who works nights as a manager at Bed Bath and Beyond to pay his bi-sexual son’s tuition at NYU. What the heck are these two doing in a precinct? What the heck are these two doing as cops in the first place? They are the buffoons of the precinct, dumped on by the other cops. They are “the other guys” to the PD’s stars.
Pic has roots in sketch comedy, and it shows. Ferrell and helmer Adam McKay, who shares screenwriter credit with Chris Henchy and Patrick Crowley, are veterans of TV’s “Saturday Night Live.” Plot strings together the sketches. Ribbon on the package is narration by Ice-T which borrows heavily from TV’s “Law & Order” franchise.
Premise is simple. Hoitz itches to redeem himself by cracking a big case. Gamble would rather do paperwork, run numbers, and track down permit violations. The diminutive Wahlberg holds his much taller partner in contempt. The pair are overshadowed by New York’s hero cops, Highsmith and Danson (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson in parodies of other action hero roles they have played). Highsmith and Danson are sort of Starsky and Hutch on steroids. In the first two reels they wreck two 1971 Chevelle SS muscle cars which had been in perfect condition — as well as countless other automobiles. The swaggering pair are got out of the way by a bizarre suicide: They jump off a 20 storey building chasing bad guys.
Hoitz determines to replace them — even with Gamble as his partner. Gamble stumbles on missing scaffolding permits which he ties to a Bernie Madoff sort (David Ershon played by British actor Steve Coogan). What he doesn’t know when he arrests Ershon on the permit violations is that he has just walked into a $32 billion scam involving a hot blonde (Anne Heche), Chechens, Nigerians, and a mean security man with an Australian accent (Roger Wesley played by Ray Stevenson) who is very tall and very deadly. Rest of pic hinges on Gamble and Hoitz’s ill-starred attempts to crack the bigger case. This sets up pic’s running jokes, including references to a couple of bands popular in the 1970s (The Little River Band gets significant time on pic’s soundtrack) and Gamble’s odd irresistibility to extraordinarily hot women. Helping drive the latter point home is the stunning Eva Mendes as his loving wife, Dr. Sheila Gamble, a cameo in which Brooke Shields hits on Gamble, a bit with Natalie Zea as Gamble’s ex-girlfriend, Christinith, a name which sets up yet another joke, and a walk-on by smoking hot newcomer Pilar Angelique. Zea’s bit is actually a real plot twist in solving the crime. One has to give McKay credit for keeping pic’s surreal 107 minutes on track while maintaining the screwball farce.
Pic also benefits excellent stunts and special effects, flawless timing from the principals, fine screenwriting for its genre, and editing by Brent White which is as disciplined as Ferrell’s comedy. A word on the latter: Will Ferrell off screen is not a funny guy. He works at comedy the way Lucille Ball did, the way Fred Astaire worked at dance. He succeeds. Other tech credits shine.
Pic’s PG rating is largely due to today’s obligatory vulgarity and to one of the funniest scenes ever filmed since Alan Arkin and Peter Falk teamed for “The In-Laws.” (Anyone remember “Serpentine, serpentine!”?) While the bad guys are watching his house, Gamble hides outside and phones in an attempt to reconcile with Dr. Sheila, who has thrown him out. Their go-between is her mother, Viola Harris as Mama Ramos, who relays unbelievably steamy messages between the pair regarding three days of make-up sex. That scene is so funny that one initially ignores its utter implausibility. “The Other Guys” is a laugh a minute. Take the kids. They’ll fail to understand why the foregoing scene is so funny, but they won’t be exposed to anything that will corrupt them.