erik lundegaard


The Other Guys (2010)


I had the two biggest laughs of the year while watching “The Other Guys” and neither involved Will Ferrell, who I think is one of the funniest men around. There was a backlash against him last year with “Land of the Lost,” and a bit the year before with “Semi-Pro,” but I liked “Semi-Pro” (more than “Step Brothers,” which did a lot better at the box office: $100 million vs. $33 million), and while “Land of the Lost” was an obvious stumble I figured he’d be back making me laugh again. He is. I’ve been waiting for this movie since the trailer hit the Internet last February.

It’s a great concept for a comedy, and it’s right there in the trailer’s low, gravelly voiceover: In the toughest city in the world, nobody fights crime like these guys... Cue squealing tires, impossible stunts, and nonchalant quips by action stars Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson.

Written byAdam McKay
Chris Henchu
Directed byAdam McKay
StarringWill Ferrell
Mark Wahlberg
Eva Mendes
Michael Keaton
Derek Jeter

Cut to: Det. Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) typing happily at his desk, humming “The Theme from ‘S.W.A.T.,’” and infuriating his partner, Det. Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg).

And then there are the other guys...

The other guys are, in other words, the ordinary guys, the misfits, the fuck-ups, forever found wanting in comparison with star cops like Highsmith (Jackson) and Danson (Johnson). They’re us, sitting in the movie theater with our bucket of popcorn, and forever found wanting in comparison with the stars on the screen.

Which brings me to the first of the big laughs.

Highsmith and Danson are on the trail of professional jewel thieves but lose them via zipline on top of a 20-story building. As they stare at the bad guys getting away on the street below, they have this typical action-star exchange:

Highsmith: You thinking what I’m thinking?
Danson: Aim for the bushes.

Then they leap off the roof in slow motion, arms and legs pinwheeling, and the camera follows them down. In the audience I kept wondering why bushes or anything that might break their fall didn’t come into view. And then: SPLAT! Right on the sidewalk. Cut to: A funeral.

Man, did I laugh. I laughed so hard I missed a lot of what followed, and what I caught—Hoitz and Gamble whispering to each other about “What were they thinking anyway?” and “There wasn’t even an awning nearby”—made me laugh all the more. It’s always dangerous dissecting humor, but I think this scene is funny because it’s both unexpected and it lays bare the lie of 100 years of Hollywood action movies. They really can’t really do what they do.

The laughs keep coming. After the funeral, during the quiet dignity of the wake, the cops, particularly Martin and Fosse (Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans, Jr.), now jockeying for the high position Highsmith and Danson held, whisper insults to Gamble and Hoitz, and Martin and Hoitz get into a whisper-quiet, rolling-on-the floor fight, screened and surrounded by a phalanx of cops, who whisper rather than shout the usual testeronic encouragements. Even when Capt. Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton, using the name of the old Phillies/Twins/Angels manager) comes over and orders them to knock it off, he does it via whisper.

By this point, half an hour in, I’m thinking “The Other Guys” is the funniest movie I’ve seen in 10 years. Then the law of averages kick in.

Most comedies are uneven, possibly because most are spoofs, and spoofs invariably give in to, or buy into, the tropes of the very genre they’re spoofing. Happens here, too. The first part of the movie shows us the absurdity of action-hero cops, but the rest of the movie is about how the other guys, the guys like us, become the action-hero cops they always wanted to be. Hoitz gets into an epic, slow-mo gun battle in which he slides down a conference table on his back with both guns blazing, while Gamble, in his Prius, is great at high-speed chases. “Where did you learn to drive like that?” Hoitz asks. “’Grand Theft Auto!’” Gamble replies. The audience’s identification with these budding heroes is complete. They are us and heroes. Shame. Would that they had just stayed us.

Other tropes include Gamble and Hoitz 1) stumbling upon the true criminals, who are 2) high-powered investment types surrounded by men with guns, and then pursuing these bad guys despite 3) no support, and even interference, from gray-haired higher-ups in the police department. Not to mention the whole “opposites as partners” motif.

Wahlberg, whom I slammed 10 years ago, but who’s impressed in many movies since, plays a pretty good straight man. He even gets off a great line impugning another’s manhood: “The sound of your piss hitting the toilet sounds feminine!” he tells Gamble. Ferrell is hilarious as always.

There’s a lot of nice bits throughout: Gamble’s Little River Band (LRB) fixation; Captain Gene constantly, unknowingly, quoting TLC lyrics; the whole “Capt. Gene” thing, which Mauch says makes him sound like the creepy host of a kid’s show; Mauch’s open, friendly, unembarrassed face when they find him moonlighting at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Keaton brings something good here. He plays it low-key but funny. You see his early comedy chops on display again. Welcome back.

Has anyone written about the brilliant end-credits? A peripheral theme of the movie is ponzi schemes, and with early ’60s-style animation we’re informed, while the credits roll, what they are, and how Bernie Madoff’s in 2008 makes the original in the 1920s seem like that of a piker. We’re shown just how much the $700 billion TARP bailout from 2008 was, and how the tax rate for the wealthiest has gone down over the last 30 years while the take-home pay of the wealthiest has skyrocketed. It’s fascinating, populist stuff that everyone should stay for. Bonus: post credits, there’s a final scene between Wahlberg and Ferrell.

When Patricia and I left the theater, we were preceded by two girls who were still laughing, uproariously, bodies bent over, about the closing-credits song, “Pimps Don’t Cry.” It’s a reference to Gamble’s back story: why he is who he is; why he’s a police accountant working a desk. Back in college, when the tuition went up, he basically became the pimp for a number of co-eds. He called himself “Gator” and acted the role. His dark side came out. That’s why he’s so timid in the present day; he doesn’t want to “set Gator loose.” To me, it was one of the weaker jokes of the film, but these two girls obviously disagreed.

For me, the funnier backstory is Hoitz’s. That, in fact, is the second of the two huge laughs I had during the movie. Hoitz is attending a group therapy session for officers who have discharged their weapons, and while the others relay their stories, bragging and high-fiving rather than tearily revealing tragic results, Hoitz sits quietly in a corner. The therapist then tries to get him to reveal his story but the others moan and bitch and don’t want to hear it. We soon find out why.

It was before Game 7 of the World Series and Hoitz was working security. He was in the long hallway before the locker room when a silhouetted figure approached. He told him to stop. The man didn’t. He repeated himself. He drew his weapon. He warned one more time. The man kept coming. So he fired and the figure fell out of the shadows and into the light: Derek Jeter wearing an iPod, now clutching his leg. “He shot Jeter!” one of the cops in the therapy session yells. “We lost the championship!” another shouts. Me, I laughed and laughed. Talk about wish fulfillment. I’m not proud of it, but I might have to buy “The Other Guys” for the sheer pleasure of watching, in slow-mo, Derek Jeter getting shot in the leg, again and again.

—August 21, 2010

© 2010 Erik Lundegaard