Thursday, August 5, 2010

Police work may be a laughing matter

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as hapless cops.

If you don't like Will Ferrell, you'd best run for cover. Not only does Ferrell have a new comedy - The Other Guys - out this week, but he also has two movies in postproduction and seven in development. So says IMDb, the invaluable movie web site.

Ferrell has made his big-screen mark in movies as diverse as the gleefully crude Old School (2003) and the more sophisticated Stranger than Fiction (2006). He also has experienced some critical drubbing, notably for Land of the Lost of the Lost (2009), which scored a dismal 32 out of 100 at the aggregate review site Metacritic.

Ferrell's growing filmography suggests that he has a kind of unstoppable drive, and it's evident in his work, which typically finds him mixing silliness and earnestness in ways that create an absurd incongruence, like opening your door and discovering a naked insurance salesman on the porch.

Although The Other Guys isn't a top-drawer comedy, it makes room for some of Ferrell's funniest work. Presented in the guise of a buddy-cop movie, The Other Guys teams Ferrell with Mark Wahlberg; they play detectives too inept even to pull off a routine good cop/bad cop interrogation.

The Other Guys reunites Ferrell with director Adam McKay, who directed Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. This time, Ferrell and McKay spoof urban cop movies, adding topical gloss with a plot that revolves around a Bernie Madoff-like financial fraud. Steve Coogan plays a British financier who's involved in a scam that has Ferrell and Wahlberg racing around New York City.

Ferrell portrays Allen Gamble, an accountant who works for the New York City Police Department, where he tries never to leave his desk. Wahlberg plays Terry Hoitz, a loose-cannon detective who craves action, but who has been shunted aside because of a whopping error in judgment. (You'll have to see the movie to find out what it is.)

The temptation with comedy is to steal some of the jokes for a review. I'll try to resist. Ferrell has some funny bits, not the least of which involves the way he describes his wife (Eva Mendes). I won't give away more, except to note that there are few red-blooded American men who would regard the sultry Mendes as an eyesore and a burden.

An amusing bit involving the way in which Ferrell's character earned money in college requires him to flip into a strange alter-ego expression of a "dark side" that he struggles to keep under wraps. These collegiate flashbacks make no sense, which, of course, makes them even funnier.

Michael Keaton is spot on but underutilized as Capt. Gene Mauch, boss of this improbable duo, a policeman who supplements his income with shifts at Bed, Bath & Beyond. He needs extra cash to support his college-age son, a character who doesn't appear in the movie but who becomes the source of a repetitive joke about sexual preference.

Wahlberg? At times, he seems to be pushing awfully hard to provide a contrast with Ferrell. But the two keep things humming through a variety of scenes that make for a ragged jigsaw puzzle of a movie. Put another way: The Other Guys is a bit of a mess.

Opinions may differ, but I don't think that McKay has the right chops to handle the movie's action, presumably intended as a send-up of the action in many urban movies of recent memory. But the thing about comedy is this: If you laugh enough, you stop caring about everything else. You feel a little better about saying that no one likely will mistake The Other Guys for a great movie, even as you wish that someone (anyone) could make a comedy that comes close to working on all levels.

Hang around for the end credits, which are designed to raise your ire about the current economic situation and which contain more pointed satire than anything else in the movie. Very clever.

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