Friday, August 13, 2010

A cut above 'other' parodies

With “The Other Guys,” Will Ferrell and frequent collaborator director Adam McKay take on the buddy cop film. This is a genre that seems like far too easy a target, but as with “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” Ferrell and McKay's weird comic sensibilities find new laughs in familiar territory.

“The Other Guys” stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg stars as a couple desk jockey New York cops living in the shadow of a pair of super cops (played with gloriously over-the-top bravado by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson). After the hot shots die in an unexpectedly hilarious manner, it is time for “the other guys” to step up.

Following the formula of the genre, Ferrell's button-upped character is perfectly content to stay at his desk, while the hot-headed Wahlberg is hungry to hit the streets. The plot, which involves Ferrell and Wahlberg taking down a white collar criminal (the always funny Steve Coogan) is negligible. It is merely there to string the jokes along and allow for some jabs at the current state of our country.

Following on the heels of Kevin Smith's critically maligned “Cop Out,” this is the second film this year to parody the buddy cop genre (third if you count parts of “MacGruber”). “Cop Out” was more homage than outright satire and played like a decent entry in the genre. It was no “Beverly Hills Cop,” but it was on the level of “Fletch.”

The buddy cop genre has long been in the realm of self-parody, but “The Other Guys” works as a parody by looking and sounding like the real thing, but adding completely absurdist elements. The only way to truly satirize this genre is to go out on a limb for big, strange laughs.

McKay and co-writer Chris Henchy also know that to make those laughs really work they need to take the time to develop a strong central dynamic between Ferrell and Wahlberg. Having that at the core allows for the comedy to work. Edgar Wright's “Hot Fuzz” took a similar approach. That film also went for absurdist laughs, but the characters made the material stick.

As with all buddy cop films, the two leads banter back and forth, but here the barbs take on a stranger dynamic. The best and oddest moment in the film involves Ferrell's comeback to an insult involving a tuna and a lion.

Wahlberg who has played his share of cops in movies, most memorably in “The Departed,” has a lot of fun playing with his tough guy persona. He is constantly on the verge of explosion. As he did in “Date Night,” Wahlberg shows assured comic timing that reveals a possible new direction for his career.

Ferrell on the other hand dials down for a lot of the film. For those who find his comedic persona grating this may be a nice change of pace. Wahlberg's needling eventually unleashes the Ferrell we know, but it is fun watching the slow build to that eruption.

Eva Mendes has a funny role as Ferrell's impossibly beautiful wife that Wahlberg can't believe is actually Ferrell's wife. Michael Keaton makes a more than welcomed return to mainstream comedy as the chief who has to work at Bed, Bath and Beyond to make ends meet. Between this and his work in “Toy Story 3,” Keaton seems to be back in a big way and it is nice to have him back.

Most parodies today simply redo scenes from other movies with a slight change and hope that it passes for comedy. It is nice to see a parody with a bit more ambition than that. “The Other Guys” doesn't always work, but when it does the results are hugely funny.

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