The Jokes Not Made In ‘The Other Guys’

ON SCREEN Mat DeKinder

I have a problem with jazz. Not really with the music per se, more with the jazz aficionados who claim that their genre of choice is intellectually superior to all other forms of music.

When defending this music that exists without structure, predictability and occasionally without a tune, they often make really obnoxious statements like “Yea, but you have to listen to the notes they aren’t playing.” I hate that.

What is interesting is that in the past 20 years movie comedies (especially the comedies of Will Ferrell) have become an awful lot like jazz.

The jokes are free-form, riffing on whatever conventional setup the movie employs as a plot, and cohesive themes and character development only show up as back beats.

By comparison, a movie like “The Hangover,” with its rigid plot of increasing absurdity and precise character dynamics, is a crowd-pleasing, fastidiously-produced and expertly-performed comedic equivalent of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Just so we’re clear, I’m not trying to argue that jazz approach is a bad way to make a movie. The gang that made “Anchorman” be-bopped, scatted and improvised their way to a comedic masterpiece.

It’s just that with the new movie “The Other Guys,” a film I laughed the entire way through, I came to realize I was going to have to defend the movie in the same obnoxious manner the jazz nerds defend their music. “Yea, but you have to laugh at the jokes they aren’t making.”

Much like music, comedy is often a matter of taste and to avoid wallowing in hypocrisy I have to admit that in spite of being funny, “The Other Guys” is not a very good movie.

It loosely hangs its jokes along the thread of a buddy-cop movie as it stars Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as a couple of mismatched, bungling New York City detectives.

They function in the shadow of more celebrated cops, like the ones played by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson who open the movie with such a bang it’s nearly impossible for everything that follows to live up to it.

Wahlberg and Ferrell bungle around trying to crack a murky case that involves high finance, but the plot doesn’t really matter because all of the laughs come from the performances. There are some solid supporting turns, especially by Michael Keaton as police captain Gene Mauch. It’s great seeing Keaton being funny on screen again, especially since his career has been in suspended animation for the past 15 years.

Wahlberg gets a lot of mileage from playing an overcaffeinated version of himself, but really, as expected, it is Ferrell who carries this movie from beginning to end. At one point in the movie Ferrell gets a laugh by simply pausing in a doorway before walking out. We’re talking Jack Benny levels of comedic effortlessness here people.

Director Adam McKay has yet to make a feature film without Ferrell in a lead role (“Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights” and “Step Brothers”), so it is no surprise that the movie is at its most successful when McKay steps back and says “In Will we trust.”

By that same token, the movie stumbles around when it tries to play it straight or awkwardly hammer home a message about corporate greed at the last minute.

As the credits rolled next to animated statistics about the injustices of the financial crisis I nearly asked the person sitting next to me, “Was that what this movie was about? Could have fooled me.”

So then the question becomes would I in good faith recommend “The Other Guys” to the general public? In order to truly understand you’ll need to read the criticisms I’m not making. Hey if it works for jazz, why not me?

The Other Guys” is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, violence and some drug material.

Mat DeKinder is the self-described Jackie Moon of film critics.

Categories: Entertainment