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The Other Guys

An Action Comedy That Scores

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Will Ferrell, hoping to reinvigorate his comedic career after last summer’s expensive box-office failure, Land of the Lost, is back after a brief hiatus with The Other Guys, an action-comedy that reunites him with writer-director Adam McKay (Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, Anchorman).

A significant improvement on the painfully unfunny Land of the Lost doesn’t reach the sustained heights of comedic brilliance of McKay and Ferrell’s last effort together, Step Brothers, but in one of the most lackluster summers for mainstream film in recent memory, it’s a welcome diversion for most of its running time.

Ferrell plays Allen Gamble, a seemingly good-natured, milquetoast police detective who prefers to ride a desk rather than seek glory and fame in the mean streets of New York City. That doesn’t stop him from turning into a submissive sycophant whenever the squad’s resident hero-cops, P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson), make a media-friendly, collateral-damage-heavy bust. Gamble’s temperamental partner, Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg, in furrowed brow, intense mode), treats him with contempt. Gamble is everything Hoitz detests, but it’s just self-hatred directed outward.

When Highsmith and Danson forget that the laws of physics and gravity also apply to them, Hoitz sees the perfect opportunity for him and Gamble to take their place. Two other detectives, Martin (Rob Riggle) and Fosse (Damon Wayans Jr.), also want to become New York City’s newest hero cops.

An accountant by training, the paperwork-obsessed Gamble sees an opportunity when David Ershon (Steve Coogan), a Bernie Madoff-like investment banker, slips up and doesn’t get the requisite scaffolding permits for a construction job.

Gamble and the perpetually angry Hoitz may be stumblers, bumblers, and fumblers, but they’ve stumbled, bumbled, and fumbled their way into a multi-billionaire fraud case, especially after armed mercenaries kidnap Ershon right from underneath them. In a running joke (funny the first time, almost as funny the second, significantly less the third), the mercenaries take their guns and their shoes. McKay and Ferrell inject mild political jabs at Wall Street, “banksters,” and government enablers, saving their worst criticism for an animated sequence that runs over the end credits.

McKay and Ferrell draw humor from Gamble’s shabby treatment of his super-hot wife, Sheila (Eva Mendes), especially Hoitz’s double- and triple-takes when he learns Gamble’s married to her, but it’s Ferrell and Wahlberg who get the best lines as the repressed rage-a-holic Gamble gets pushed closer and closer to the edge.

McKay and Ferrell occasionally get lazy, throwing in pop culture/product placement references when they’ve run out of jokes. One particularly egregious bit involves Gamble and Hoitz’s captain, Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton), who moonlights as a manager at Bed, Bath & Beyond to help cover his son’s NYU tuition.

As for the “action” in the “action-comedy” description, McKay’s reliance on quick cuts and hyperactive camera moves (a.k.a. shaky-cam) is an unfortunate result of his inexperience directing action scenes. When the plot finally takes over in the third-act, the humor almost disappears, leaving the “comedy” out of the “action-comedy” equation. Even with these qualifications, however, The Other Guys provides a mostly satisfying mix of laughs and action, especially in the first act as McKay merrily parodies action-genre conventions.