Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Other Guys; somewhere there's an Other Movie doing an important job

There's a scene about half way through The Other Guys where the eponymous detectives are heading towards a building and it blows up in their faces. They spend the next five minutes flat on their backs bitching and whining about how MUCH that kind of thing stings, and how movies are totally misleading in the way they always show people walking away from huge bangs without even flinching. It's very funny, and the whole movie should have made out of an equal mix of that kind of scene and the opening scenes with the hero detectives. I know that this would have made it very formulaic, but the movie's a comedy about police work, for goodness sake.

The opening's a lot of fun too; the movie pretty much had me when Samuel L Jackson's red flashing light gets shot off his muscle car and without even changing expression he reaches down to grab a new one and slap it into place on the roof. The muscle car then embeds itself into a bus, the bus takes up the chase, with the Rock driving the bus and Samuel L for some insane reason still sitting in the driver's seat of the car. While I was scratching my head about that, the Rock K-turns the bus so that the muscle car flies out the other side of the bus with Samuel L at the wheel, somehow steering with his knees while firing with both hands at the bad guys. It's nuts, it's awesome, and I can totally see why the writers kill both characters off shortly afterwards. They're FAR too much fun to watch and far far too expensive to film.

There was a fun movie to be had in the contrast between that kind of high speed lunacy pretending to be police work and what would happen if you put real cops into the same kinds of situation. And I think they set out to make it, before deciding that it would be more interesting to give the ordinary real cops complicated and surprising back stories. Mark Wahlberg gets just enough backstory (the idea that his character learned to do perfect ballet just so he could mock gay kids in class is quick and gives you a great sense of what's wrong with him as a person) but Will Ferrell gets way more than he needs and in fact so much that it gets in the way of the movie. The idea of a police accountant getting involved in lunatic violence is more than enough to be getting on with; he doesn't need to have amazing luck with women or a whole back story as a former pimp.

If anyone had been paying attention, the perennially unlucky Ray Stevenson is there to show that you can suggest an entire character with no backstory and only a few lines of dialogue, just by modulating the growl the right way. Like anyone else who made it all the way through Rome, I have huge amounts of time for Ray, who made Titus Pullo one of the definitive decent thugs of all time. He's the enforcer here for the villain of the piece and with very little screen time and very few lines manages to put together a world-weary professional bad guy who I wanted to see a lot more of. Honestly, I'd go and see a movie called the adventures of Wesley; that's how much cool Ray brings to a very underwritten character. So the example was there for everyone else; you can sell an interesting character doing very routine things if you just think about how to pitch it.

Instead, huge amounts of time go into establishing Will Ferrell as a really, really annoying person who's senselessly mean to his beautiful wife and way more oblivious about his frankly incredible powers of attraction over women. Some of this is actually funny, but a heck of a lot less of it would have been a good idea.

Still, it's fun. It has some great moments, and Mark Wahlberg does a lot to hold it all together simply by virtue of staying within his limited range and working hard at it. He's very good at playing angry not-quite articulate guys, and he's also very good at playing much put upon guys who are just trying to get by. (The Departed and the Big Hit are probably those two styles at their peak). Without him, Ferrell would probably be just unbearable.

There's all kinds of little cameos and small bits of business; so that's what happened to Anne Heche! My goodness, Michael Keaton's got old! Josef Sommer is still alive! Steve Coogan always plays stammering weasels!

Easily the weirdest bit is the closing credits, which are a montage of infographics about the impact of the current recession on ordinary people and the complete lack of real impact on the clowns who caused it. The mcguffin in the plot is a scheme to use the NYPD pension fund to prop up a failed investment bank, so it has some relevance to something most of the audience probably weren't paying any attention to (as usual I was waiting for the next explosion or wisecrack;plot? they had one of those in a comedy?) but it's incredibly jarring to see it at the end of a comedy. I bet someone hoiks those infographics OUT of the credits and puts them up on a website just to hammer the points in them a bit further home. The numbers are depressing. Unless you're a US executive on an average of 8 million dollars a year, in which case they're probably quite reassuring. Of course, there is the question of how seriously to take this kind of posturing from people who are paid millions of dollars a year themselves to do something which at best staves off boredom for 107 minutes.

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