The cop comedy took a beating earlier this year when Kevin Smith's Cop Out emerged not just as the most unfunny movie of his career, but also his biggest hit. Adam McKay's The Other Guys isn't quite brilliant enough to make up for it, and doesn't come close to the sublime weirdness of his previous film Step Brothers, but it is a much funnier attempt to inject comedy into the familiar cop procedural, and yet another chance for audiences to stumble in on his long collaboration with Will Ferrell and marvel at what they come up with.
The central problem this time around is that, unlike the happily rambling Anchorman and Step Brothers, The Other Guys relies on plot and a lot of it, getting its cop characters wrapped up in financial scandal and armed robbery and kidnapping that's way too much for McKay and his co-writer Chris Henchy to handle. The best moments, as in all of McKay's movies, are when the myriad bizarre characters have the time to bounce off one another, which luckily happens just enough in The Other Guys to make up for long stretches of dull and derivative plot.
At the center of it all, as always, is Ferrell as Allen, a buttoned-up version of his usual manchlid who was perfectly happy as an accountant for the police force until he was, for some reason, bumped up to detective. He's paired up with disgraced hothead Terry (Mark Wahlberg) who was sentenced to desk duty after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter (appearing as himself in one of the film's many star cameos). Terry is dying to get back out on the streets, especially with rival detective team Fosse (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Martin (Rob Riggle) taunting him constantly, but Allen is too cautious to put himself in danger, and the two exchange insults while the superstar cops of the force (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, both hilarious and perfectly cast) dump their paperwork on Terry and Allen's desks.
It wouldn't be much of a movie if Terry and Allen didn't get called into action, but I'll be honest with you-- I can't remember, a day later, the plot machinations that put them in touch with Steve Coogan's slimy investor and his mysterious Australian kidnapper, and no one in the movie seemed to care much about them anyway. The best parts are all about riffs, whether it's Wayans and Riggle puffing up their chests, Michael Keaton's boss character moonlighting at Bed Bath & Beyond and getting his staff pumped up about bathmats, or Ferrell giving an epic monologue about how a pack of tuna would kill and eat a lion. McKay frequently abandons the plot entirely in order to put Terry and Allen in more weird situations, from visiting one of Allen's inexplicably hot exes to a slo-mo montage of a wild night of drinking that takes the plot absolutely nowhere. It's frustrating to realize halfway through that the plot still doesn't make any sense, but when the tangents are this funny, you eventually start looking forward to the next one.
Most of the sprawling cast is very much on board with the weird tone McKay establishes from the beginning, and Eva Mendes is particularly, unexpectedly funny as the wife with looks Allen just can't seem to appreciate (but who Terry can't stop ogling). Oddly Wahlberg is the one who frequently slows down the momentum; so razor-sharp and quick in I Heart Huckabee's and The Departed, his comic timing seems off here, and his repartee with Ferrell frequently amounts to shouting "Shut up!" and pointing a gun. He's game for anything, though, including a dance scene in a crosswalk and some actual action scenes on top of it all. Forgive me if I just would have rather seen Ferrell team up with John C. Reilly again.
Maybe the most fascinating thing about The Other Guys is the closing credits sequence, a sharp and utterly un-ironic takedown of Wall Street and the financial industry told in concise and clever graphics. It's totally out of place given the sloppy silliness that came before it, and emphasizes the Ponzi scheme plot that was largely incoherent in the movie, but the credits may actually be able to work up some populist rage among people who paid to see Mark Wahlberg throw coffee on Will Ferrell. That doesn't quite make up for the movie being too disorganized to achieve its potential, but counts for something.