The success or failure of a Will Ferrell movie has almost nothing to do with Will Ferrell.
Let me explain.
In a career rife with calculated buffoonery, it’s become apparent that Ferrell has mastered the man-child persona. Whether he’s a charming, we’re-going-streaking doofus in “Old School” or the oversexed Ron Burgundy in “Anchorman” or simply playing a child in a man’s body in “Elf” — Ferrell has it down pat. He’s reliable.
Obviously, not all of Ferrell’s movies work (remember last year’s “Land of the Lost”?). When they do, however, it is often thanks to the stewardship of the filmmakers. Ferrell will most certainly play his part, while the rest is up to them.
Ferrell’s most frequent collaborator is writer/director Adam McKay, who steered “Talladega Nights,” “Step Brothers” and “Anchorman.” Together, they also created the comedy video website Funny or Die.
With “The Other Guys,” McKay and Ferrell have set their sights on the buddy-cop comedy, which begs the question: Do we really need another buddy-cop comedy? While stupefying, the answer is, surprisingly, “yes.”
One more, at the very least. McKay has surrounded his lead with a wealth of guest stars and a funny script that borders on being manic.
“The Other Guys” opens with a pair of super cops — grade-A cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson — locked and loaded in a death-defying police chase through New York City. After jumping their police car onto a double-decker bus, commandeering said bus and then exploding it on top of the bad guys, the hero cops are worshipped by the media and their fellow officers.
Jackson and Johnson are not the other guys. That would be Ferrell and co-star Mark Wahlberg, playing a pair of low-level desk detectives named Gamble and Hoitz. Ferrell’s Gamble is a studious, Prius-driving dunce who loves paperwork. As Hoitz, Wahlberg is his hot-headed partner and the shame of the department. (He accidentally shot Yankees superstar Derek Jeter in the leg during a home game.)
After tragedy befalls our super-cop cameos, the idiots are thrust into action. Their first big case: trailing a Ponzi scheme artist who’s in deep with some nefarious investors. Timely, right? Just don’t expect any commentary here.
Wahlberg is basically reprising his critically lauded, if overly dramatic role from “The Departed,” where he played a rugged sergeant who never knew the meaning of an inside voice. He’s more of a basket-case here, begging the precinct captain to let him loose. “I’m a peacock,” he says. “You’ve got to let me fly.”
There are several laugh-out-loud moments in “The Other Guys.” But for the most part, Ferrell and company generate sustained giggles. One of the film’s best surprises comes in the form of Michael Keaton as a precinct captain who moonlights at Bed Bath & Beyond and is prone to unknowingly quoting lyrics from ‘90s R&B group TLC. Eva Mendes shows up as Gamble’s saucy supermodel of a wife. The mismatched pairing sets off a cavalcade of jokes, capped with Mendes and Ferrell singing a tune called “Pimps Don’t Cry” (don’t ask why). Bizarre little moments like these are what sets “The Other Guys” apart from the rest of the summer drivel.
That’s not to say there aren’t any misses. McKay has a tendency to let a good thing go on far too long. The idea of a grandmother talking dirty in a Will Ferrell comedy might seem like a gold mine. But stretch that gag out to five minutes and the joke begins to cannibalize itself.
Many people will bill “The Other Guys” as a satire on the buddy-cop movie, but that suggests there is something left to spoof. There’s a moment early on in “The Other Guys” when Ferrell and Wahlberg accidentally drive right through the police tape at a crime scene, braking only after they’ve run over the body. It’s crude and funny. But the scene also felt emblematic of the whole buddy-cop scenario: It might be worth a few laughs, but let’s stop before the genre is good and dead.
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg
Directed by: Adam McKay
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material.