Maybe decades from now, the director/star team of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell will be thought of as this generation’s film-comedy equivalent of Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon.
Hey, I said “maybe.”
I’m someone who always looks forward to seeing Ferrell in a movie, but someone who really, really looks forward when said movie also carries McKay’s credit. Arguably, he brings out the be(a)st in Ferrell: Witness “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Step Brothers” and now “The Other Guys.”
Despite lukewarm trailers, “The Other Guys” delivers big. Oh, it won’t be up for a single Oscar, but all a comedy need be judged on is the number of laughs it elicits. I wasn’t counting, but if I were, I’d have lost track.
Ferrell is Allen Gamble, a New York City cop who is happy sitting behind a desk, doing nothing but paperwork. This irritates his partner, hotshot Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg, “Date Night”), who’s been demoted after shooting baseball star Derek Jeter.
Actually, everything about the milquetoast Allen irritates Terry: his face, the sound of his stream hitting the urinal, his predilection for the music of Little River Band, even his car. “This is literally like driving inside a vagina,” Terry says of Allen’s buttoned-up Prius.
Appearances, of course, can be deceiving. After arresting a corporate weasel (Steve Coogan, “Marmaduke”) for minor permit violations (not knowing he’s center stage of a massive Ponzi scheme), the two become immersed in a do-or-die situation that prompts their true selves to emerge.
It’s not the plot that yields the yuks. In fact, one could excise practically all its scenes and not lose any of the standouts. A particularly good running gag involves Allen’s inexplicable magnetism to hot women; his wife (Eva Mendes, “The Spirit”) is so gorgeous that Terry thinks it’s a prank, and Allen’s equally curvy ex-girlfriend (Natalie Zea, TV’s “Justified”) only amps up the mystery.
Scenes like that give Wahlberg a lot of room to be funny. Although he’s essentially the straight man of the buddy formula “ the Bud Abbott to Ferrell’s Lou Costello “ he fits in quite nicely in a role that usually would be played by a comedian, which Wahlberg is not. At least not yet.
Some gags are so sly, you don’t recognize them as such until after they’ve passed. Ferrell’s brand of humor is painted on thick here, which means bouts of yelling, absurdist improv, general man-child behavior and Michael Keaton (“Batman” returns!) quoting TLC lyrics. In other words, vintage Ferrell, making for the funniest Hollywood comedy since … oh, say, last summer’s “The Hangover.” Seriously. —Rod Lott