A rambling script that never quite takes the aim it meant to at the rarified world of high finance proves little impediment to THE OTHER GUYS, an uneven comedy redeemed by the inspired casting of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as cops with nothing in common paired up on a career-making case. Forget the brief, unfocused forays into investment banking, the fun here is discovering that Wahlberg is one of the finest comic straight men ever to have graced the big screen.
He’s Terry Hoitz, a street savvy, once rising star on the NYPD busted to desk duty after an unfortunate incident at the World Series involving a personal stereo, a baseball bat, and a dark tunnel. Tired of being the butt of the precincts jokes, he is itching to be back on the street catching the big cases and the glory. His dream is blocked at every turn by new partner Allen Gamble (Ferrell), a prissy former forensic accountant with a burning passion for his calculator, staying at his desk, and enforcing building codes. It’s that last that inadvertently puts them in the middle of a sophisticated theft of $32 million by a hapless investment banker (Steve Coogan) in a bid to pay back the money he lost for some people who are very, very unhappy. Homicidally unhappy.
The guys barely contained hatred of one another is the best thing in the flick, with Ferrell revisiting his man-child persona with a disarmingly prissy twist, and Wahlberg doing a not-so-slow burn mixed with stunned disbelief over everything Allen does, says, or hums. The intensity of his visceral frustration, compounded with the astonished incomprehension of what makes Allen tick, is edgy and dangerous and all the funnier for it. Their face-off involving tunas and lions is an instant classic, so is a brawl during a funeral that attempts to maintain the decorum of the occasion. That and everything else the two do works because while Ferrell is floating along with absurdity of it all while taking a metaphorical wink at the audience, Wahlberg spends every minute as though he were in a genuine cop action flick, even while explaining his mastery of sarcastic dancing. When the two eventually bond, and working together becomes more than just the partner code, it loses some of its funniness, but with Coogan adding his distracted narcissism, Michael Keaton as a harried moonlighter of a police captain, and Ray Stevenson’s assassin with a weakness for bombs and Kylie Minogue played with psychotic conviction, it chugs along without becoming irksome. The running joke about Allen being an unwitting magnet for very hot babes, including his wife, played as a dewy-eyed doormat by Eva Mendes, eventually runs out of steam, but fortunately, Wahlberg’s dumbfounded surprise at their attraction for him never does.
The flick starts strong with a sly send-up of the usual cop action tales, including things blowing up real good, gunfire aplenty, and tag-line quips from the department’s superstars, played bombastically by Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson. As it winds down, with the laughs spaced further apart, and the plot becoming more and more disjointed, it has the good grace to end. It also has the good grace to remember at the last minute that there was something about high finance it wanted to say, and does so by splashing unsettling statistics onscreen along with the closing credits. Those staying may leave the theater humming The International. They will also be rewarded with a closing clip of Wahlberg and Ferrell having their characters talk past each other. It’s worth the wait.