The improvisational approach to the films of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers) has produced some really funny stuff but the films themselves aren’t are great as complete cinematic experiences. I think it’s the trade-off between a narrative and finding the extra funny in nearly every scene; the consistency of a structured screenplay with respect to all aspects feeding the story is unimportant when there’s a good gag to be found. The Other Guys is no different from the preceding collaborations, but it is very funny in a lot of places, and that’s what matters.
The story sees Ferrell, a forensic accountant detective who prefers to do the paperwork, and his partner (Mark Wahlberg), an angry detective who has been demoted because of shooting a baseball star, trying to work together when Wahlberg wants to be the hero cop (like the department stars, Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, living all the action cop clichés in the first few minutes) while Ferrell is happy in the office. The plot is supposed to be topical – it’s about the people in suits who steal billions via Wall Street, rather than drugs or jewels – but it is trivial compared to the jokes. There’s the usual dialogue and insulting and snappy retorts, but there’s also the great set piece of a silent brawl at a wake, or the night of drinking condensed into a panoramic photograph, or Ferrell’s inexplicably hot wife (Eva Mendes) tenderly singing ‘Pimps Don’t Cry’ to Ferrell after an argument (the attention to detail is impressive – they recorded a proper version of the song in blaxploitation funk style over the end credits, which made me think it was something actually from the 1970s).
The cast do well with the funny – it was nice to see Michael Keaton being funny again, as the captain who seems to speak in TLC song titles; Steve Coogan, who always complains that the UK sees him only as Alan Partridge, seems to channel Partridge for his banking ‘villain’ character; Ferrell can do funny in his sleep, but fortunately he’s awake for this film, and Mendes is charmingly amusing; Wahlberg does a good job, perfectly suited to the angry man but also showing a funny side in the straight role. McKay does a good job of handling both the action and the comedy, so the film is enjoyable and well put together. However, it is not consistently funny because of the belief that ad-libbing and riffing is inherently more funny than working it out in advance. Not a film to see in the cinema, perhaps, but one to enjoy on DVD, with no doubt many, many cut scenes of the cast trying new things out or causing each other to corpse (one is even included at the end of the bizarre final credits, which are accompanied by financial statistics about the economic meltdown).