Thursday, August 12, 2010

"The Other Guys": Adam McKay's most conventional comedy to date

Adam McKay, an alum of Second City and Improv Olymipic, a founding member of the Upright Citizen's Brigade, and former SNL writer and the originator of the SNL Digital Short, had a bit of experience in comedy before his directorial debut feature, 2004's Anchorman.

McKay's regular partnering with Will Ferrell, combined with McKay's studies under improv legend Del Close, has often led to his films featuring frequent non-sequitur asides and running gags. All three of McKay's features, Will Ferrell vehicles Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, contain constant improvisations and tangents unrelated to the plot at hand, which does manage to stock his films with laughs but also makes them feel incredibly disjointed and loose compared to most other mainstream comedies. This style is in part thanks to McKay's famous tendency to overshoot, hence the DVD special “Wake Up Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie,” which is comprised almost entirely of alternate takes and deleted scenes from Anchorman.

On first seeing the trailer for The Other Guys several months ago, it seemed clear that McKay wasn't going to stray too far from his usual playbook. Ferrell and Wahlberg star as two NYC desk cops who struggle to fill the shoes of star officers Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson, who are taken out of action. Their only way to shine above rivals Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr is to catch Steve Coogan, a ponzi-scheme financier. Bombshell Eva Mendes surprised me with her comic chops as Ferrell's unlikely wife, and Michael Keaton was perfectly cast as the department's moonlighting captain with curious musical allusions.

Much of the laughs come from parodying cop movie tropes, most amusingly when Ferrell and Wahlberg get knocked over by an explosion.

In fact, The Other Guys rarely drifts far from playing with the cop and detective thriller cliches viewers are constantly bombarded with* and as a result, it feels like a much more focused comedy than previous Ferrell/McKay collaborations. Even though we already know what's going to happen throughout the film, McKay's awareness of the genre he's working with manages to keep the comedic beats intelligently surprising, and most importantly, consistently funny.

TOO MUCH: The film feels pretty lean, even though it clocks in at just over 1:40. Anyone complaining about too-long chase scenes or comedic bits probably doesn't appreciate, or have the patience for, the genre satire at play.

COULD HAVE USED MORE: Dare I say it, a little more improv from Ferrell, who was surprisingly reserved throughout the film.

FILM SNOB NOTE: a running gag about driving to the right pump up music** echoes the 1999 almost-cult hit Three Kings, wherein Wahlberg's fellow soldiers drive into battle listening to Chicago's “If You Leave Me Now.” A mini-theatrical spot for The Other Guys featured Ferrell and Wahlberg suspended from wires in the pose from the poster; a similar bit promoting Step Brothers featured Ferrell and costar John C. Reilly in a "living poster."

IHYFM RATING: FOUR out of FIVE MEHS. Is it a timeless comedy? Certainly not. Did it deliver a consistent stream of unpredictable laughs? Sure did.

IF YOU SAID THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: I won't deny you when you tell me Gator needs his gat.

*Like the ones that could very well sink this fall's star-studded yet tragically titled thriller The Town.

**Ferrell claims the best is Little River Band.