Here’s the most important thing you need to know about The Other Guys: it is funny.
There are other less important, more critical things that you might want to know–and we’ll get to those in just a second. Comedy, though, is in many ways the easiest genre to review because you either laughed or you didn’t. I probably laughed more than I have at a movie since, oh, maybe The Simpsons Movie, and the last time I remember laughing this hard was maybe Zoolander.
The film is not without its faults. The last third drags a bit, and it has a tendency to return to its funniest jokes once too often. (“Time to let the peacock fly” is funny; the actual flying peacock in the credits, not so much.) It spends a little too much time trying to make the case that police detectives Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) are working on matter to us (and fails to do so). The action scenes are generic and too long. I’m willing to forgive those flaws though, because when it worked, which was often enough, it elicited laughs rather than just smiles or groans.
There is also something self-effacing in the tone that I found refreshing at the end of another summer of bigger, louder, longer, bigger, louder, longer, bigger, and louder. Part of that tone is, of course, Ferrell’s persona, but the rest of the cast appears game for the fun, whether it be Samuel L. Jackson or Dwayne (“The Rock”) Johnson gamely overplaying the narcissistic uber-cop foils for the stars (Johnson, particularly, comes off as a live-action embodiment of Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston in his “I’m so obtuse I’m almost charming” ridiculousness), Eva Mendes playing her devotion straight (rather than winking at the audience) so that Wahlberg’s exasperation gets bigger laughs, or Michael Keaton extracting more laughs out of his characters cluelessness than he probably would out of making him a stereotypical exasperated-at-how-stupid-his-guys-are captain.
Timing isn’t necessarily everything in comedy, but it matters a lot. I will admit that The Other Guys probably looks a bit better than it is coming on the heels of the loathsomely crass Hot Tub Time Machine or even the more-frantic-than-funny-yet-still-praised-to-the-moon The Hangover. This means that although on an absolute scale it is probably more crass and lewd than I would like a PG-13 film to be, it somehow feels kind of benign by today’s standards.
Probably the most pleasant surprise about The Other Guys, and the reason it ultimately tips over into the “yeah it works” category is that Wahlberg and Ferrell mesh well together. Wahlberg’s presence brings an edgier, more adult comedy vibe to the project that one might initially think would tilt Ferrell a bit too much towards his smarier, cruder (and less funny) Anchorman/Old School /Semi-Pro persona. Instead, the opposite happens. Freed of the need to have to be both the envelope pusher and the source of all laughs, Ferrell gives us the sweet doofus persona of Talladega Nights or Elf, someone who is easy enough to laugh at because of his obtuseness but isn’t so unlikeable that we can’t root for him.
Count me a fan of the kinder, gentler, but no less stupid Will.