Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Other Guys
There’s a moment in The Other Guys that is just about the funniest thing Will Ferrell has every done. It proves that Ferrell has all the ability to be a brilliant subtle character comic but none of the good sense to follow through with it. The Other Guys is instead a constant parade of stock Will Ferrellisms: breaking out into pimp talk; yelling nonsense like a madman; making forced pop culture references; and, as is his speciality, conducting himself like a full grown moron with the subtlety of a jackhammer. And yet there’s that one shot, denying us all the promise Will Ferrell has been denying us for years. It involves the star standing in the doorway of a ballet school. He’s just finished yelling something nonsensical. The dance instructor tells him to go away. He pauses, stares, turns and walks away with a strange and perfect mix of force and idiocy, and for one moment, so brief that you blink and you miss it, Will Ferrell has become an actual character. Character is exactly what has been lacking form every Ferrell comedy since Talladega Nights. It’s not so much that we expect much from Ferrell and his director/collaborator Adam McKay anymore, as much as it is that they drag good people down with them. In this case it’s Mark Wahlberg, who can be a very funny actor, but here is given nothing to do but play off of Ferrell's doofus naif. This basically comes down to a lot of frustration on Wahlberg's part; yelling, and telling his partner that he just doesn’t like him very much. Gamble (Ferrell) and Hoitz (Wahlberg) are mismatched police partners to say the least. Gamble is tall, straight-laced, always dawns his over sized spectacles and would rather work a calculator than a drug bust. So clueless is this guy that when his co-workers convince him that it’s a regular office practice to fire your gun off into the ceiling he ends up being issued a wooden gun as a result. Hoitz on the other hand is fiery and ready for action. He used to be a hotshot but got transferred and stuck with Gamble because of an incident that gets a chuckle the first time and then get’s beaten into the ground as it becomes one of the plots many frequent punch lines. After the two top cops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) get taken off the job in one of the films few big laughs, Hoitz sees an opportunity and must convince a reluctant Gamble to get out from behind the desk and onto the streets. There’s no point talking much about what kind of case Gamble and Hoitz stumble onto because the entire film is essentially a collection of set ups for Wahlberg to scream at Ferrell and Ferrell to say something stupid in response. Sometimes the exchanges manage to find something halfway amusing to run with, but more often than not they are just superfluous flashes of nothing in particular. Ferrell talks about his days as a pimp, his sexual escapades with his wife, how a school of tuna would defeat a lion who tried to capture them and you know how it goes. None of this does anything to build into comedic characters or some sort of clever plot. Instead it just sits on the screen, does noting, proves nothing, contributes nothing and then disappears only to be followed up by a similar bit of business. The chief is played by Michael Keaton who, once, amusingly quotes a TLC song and denies it, only to then do it again and again and again. He also works a second job at Bed, Bath and Beyond where he gives a pep talk about the new shipment of rugs. Characters rarely ever run deeper than that. None of this would matter if the punch lines were funny. But they aren’t. They aren’t even halfway towards clever. Part of the thing that made Talladega Nights work so well is that it had the clear idea that it wanted to be a parody and shot for that. The Other Guys has no such conviction. Instead of approaching this material with the keen eye of a spoofster, McKay and his crew trample forward with the laden hand of someone who can’t be bothered to think up a decent punch line, thinking that maybe half-hearted jokes will get funnier with every time that they are repeated. It’s a shame, Will Ferrell is a talented guy and can be a compelling character actor. I just desperately pray that he will soon muster the sense enough to stop making Will Ferrell movies already!