With Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Steve Coogan. Directed by Adam McKay. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material. 107 minutes.
THE OTHER GUYS is a goofy buddy cop action comedy that takes the material in all sorts of unexpected directions but plays it straight. It’s hard to describe without giving away some of the jokes, but let’s try. If you already know you’re going to see it, you may want to stop reading here and come back later.
Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Holtz (Mark Wahlberg) are two mismatched partners. Gamble is a forensic accountant who loves to do police paperwork and is reduced to carrying a wooden gun. Holtz wants to have his chance to shine as a police detective but will never live down an unfortunate shooting incident at Yankee Stadium that earned him the nickname “The Yankee Clipper.” The stars of the department are Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne Johnson) who, in the opening minutes of the film, cause $12 million in property damage to capture some drug dealers. They are treated as heroes.
When these star cops are removed from the picture in one of the most bizarre sight gags seen this year, Holtz believes it is his moment to “fly like a peacock.” He is not dissuaded when told peacocks don’t actually fly. The misfit partners find themselves investigating a complex scam run by financier David Ershon (Steve Coogan). Before the film is over it will involve an Australian commando, bums having orgies in stolen cars, the Broadway hit “Jersey Boys” and Gamble’s drop dead gorgeous wife (Eva Mendes) to whom he refers to as his “ball and chain.”
That last is a key to the humor here in which outrageous things happen while at least some of the characters react as if nothing unusual is happening. Holtz simply can’t believe that a pill like Gamble is married to a bombshell who is also a doctor. He keeps asking, “Who is she? Really?” It’s like their police captain (Michael Keaton) who keeps quoting lyrics from the group TLC but refuses to admit he’s even heard of them. You either find this sort of stuff funny or you don’t.
Ferrell and Wahlberg have an odd chemistry together but it works. The trick is that instead of going for the usual partnership where one character is the clown and the other is the essentially the straight man (“48 Hrs.,” “Rush Hour,” “Cop Out”) here they’re each a bit of both. Ferrell has his comic moments but also gets to sing maudlin songs in an Irish pub, while Wahlberg unexpectedly reveals his sensitive side to his girlfriend in a ballet class with the reason he knows those moves being even more twisted. From scene to scene we’re never quite sure what to expect from either of them.
“The Other Guys” is nothing more than an escapist action comedy, but it has some solid laughs and manages to keep the story moving in ways that don’t make you feel you’ve seen it all before. If some movies get categorized as “chick flicks,” mark this one “guys night out.”•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.