Thu, 21 Oct 2010 16:39:43 GMT

Review: 'The Other Guys'

If the mismatched-buddy cop movie seems egregiously overdone, the idea of a parody of that genre would seem especially needless -- which is what makes 'The Other Guys' such a wonderful surprise.

'The Other Guys'

On paper, this could have been painfully lame. Will Ferrell is doing a variation on his tried-and-true film persona: the overly earnest guy who's totally confident and oblivious to his buffoonery. Mark Wahlberg, meanwhile, is playing with his screen image as a tough guy and a hothead, doing a version of his Oscar-nominated role in 'The Departed'. And the joke you see in the TV commercials -- in which Ferrell blasts Little River Band's mellow '70s hit "Reminiscing" on the way to a crime scene -- is good for a laugh but it makes you wonder, is that the best they've got?

It all could have been too familiar, too cute. But there are just enough tweaks to these characters and this formula -- and a refreshingly weird, kinky streak throughout -- that make 'The Other Guys' an unexpected kick. It runs out of steam in the third act and probably could have been tightened a bit. And we didn't need the Powerpoint-style presentation over the closing credits preaching to us about corporate greed: We're all quite aware it's a problem. But the majority of it works.

A big reason for the film's success is that the action sequences are played totally straight. The chases and shootouts on the streets of New York are elaborately staged and detailed -- down to the cliche that the bad guys always have crazy amounts of automatic weaponry but still manage to miss our heroes, even when firing from a helicopter. There's also an homage to John Woo that takes place in a glassed-off conference room with documents and bullets and bodies flying in artful slow-motion; again, because it's choreographed so well and not played cartoonishly, it's more effective.

The comedy similarly has a deadpan tone; it's self-aware but not tongue-in-cheek. This is not over the top like a 'Scary Movie' parody, and that makes it more appealing, too. The tossed-off pop culture references feel naturally like a part of the fabric. Like the previous movies Ferrell has collaborated on with writer-director Adam McKay, 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy', 'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby' and (with lesser success) 'Step Brothers', 'The Other Guys' comes from a realistic, often understated place, which makes the wild moments pop out that much more. (Chris Henchy co-wrote the script, but Ferrell obviously had lots of room to improvise.)

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