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The Other Guys

We've all seen mismatched buddy cop films in which the action gets bigger, faster, louder and makes less and less sense. Millions of dollars of property damage and we just don't care, because we got an adrenaline thrill. The guys that cause all that mayhem for our enjoyment? We idolize them.

Then there are The Other Guys. Standing in the shadows, doing all the paperwork and generally not getting noticed, they also serve who stand and wait, right? In this case, they're Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), two misfits barely worthy of breathing the same air as Highsmith and Danson (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson). They're what some might call pluggers, though Hoitz believes he's a peacock. No one can convince him that peacocks can't fly.

Writer/Director Adam McKay gives cop movies a pretty good drubbing, and has the sense to do it well. As over the top as our first look at Highsmith and Danson is, it's not hard to see it lifted from some other movie meant to star Jackson and Johnson. Heck, Jackson even borrows his wardrobe from Shaft.

But McKay has two other stars, and the focus shifts over to them as they see an opportunity to become hotshots. Actually, only Hoitz sees it; Gamble happily does the scut work as a hard-hitting police accountant. When he discovers that high-risk fund manager David Ershon (Steve Coogan) has been doing some home improvements without scaffolding permits, however, Gamble's sense of justice has been incensed.

You know the drill. Of course this minor crime causes the other guys to stumble into something much larger, involving high finance, Ray Stevenson's menacing security chief and the crime that Highsmith and Danson investigated at the beginning of the movie.

In a lot of ways, The Other Guys plays it by the numbers, at least as far as plotting goes. But McKay and co-writer Chris Henchy also have a different sensibility, and the script also has a looser, anything goes vibe that goes right back to McKay's days with Second City. There's a plot, and it holds together, but the movie keeps making these goofy little side trips.

Until about the last half hour, it works. Then the side trips have to stop and the movie becomes a standard cop story, with an unexpectedly bitter undercurrent that runs through the closing titles. That doesn't quite match up with the rest of the movie, but thanks anyway, guys, for the lesson.

Ferrell dumps his arrogant idiot pose and goes back to something more like Buddy the Elf. Though Gamble has a dark secret in his past - not quite as funny as the movie thinks it is - he now seems pretty clueless and happy in his milquetoast existence. Hot women adore him, none more so than his wife, played by Eva Mendes in one of the movie's better jokes, though the trailer gives away most of it.

On the other side of the desk, Wahlberg channels Andy Samberg doing his Mark Wahlberg impression, playing up the breathiness and volatile side of his persona. He does have good timing, and never gives in to winking at his character, even when surrounded by actors that are more cartoony.

And there are plenty. Jackson and Johnson really aren't there for anything other than being the most obnoxious versions of themselves they can be. That rolls down to Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans, Jr., playing echoes of the bigger stars in a joke that doesn't quite work because they're not as well known.

Shifting over into exasperated police captain mode, former wild man Michael Keaton keeps a tight lid on things, in a reminder that he never lost his touch. Too bad we lost touch.

And Steve Coogan continues doing solid work in American films that will never quite get what makes him tick as a comic. He maintains a dry sensibility, but doesn't get to cut loose in the way he could with Hamlet 2. It's not that he's at odds with the material; there's just not a lot of room for him in a role that could have been played by anyone with a British sneer.

The Other Guys is probably our last best hope for a good comedy this summer, at least on purpose. The laughs are strong, McKay takes some risks, and nobody takes it as seriously as The Expendables might.

Derek McCaw

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