“The Other Guys” starts out like one more run of the mill cop action movie—with a long, literally incredible chase. When they return to the office boasting of having caught the bad guys, the two egotist heroes (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) take pains to insult their opposite numbers, two desk-bound detectives who are partners in name only. The title characters, Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz, played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, take over the movie the movie shortly thereafter, turning it into a spoof of what it seemed to be playing straight.
Like all good parodies, this one relies on our recognition of what is being made fun of. But it has to be played straight-faced, with no tipoffs that the director or the actors are in on the joke. For most of its length, the movie does just that, to consistently humorous effect. Director Adam McKay and his co-screenwriter Chris Henchy occasionally beat a joke too hard—sometimes unto death—and the plot has a certain ad-libbed feel to it. But Ferrell and Wahlberg save it, the interactions of their wildly different characters sparking the humor.
Hoitz is stuck in the office because he accidentally shot a guy named Derek Jeter, never a good idea in the NYPD. (The real Jeter leads off a string of cameos that add to the fun.) Gamble, by contrast, comes to the division with a background in forensic accounting, and he loves the mountains of paperwork the job generates. It doesn’t help that nerdy Gamble is, against all odds, a chick magnet, though he remains faithful to his gorgeous wife (Eva Mendez, playing against type to comic effect).
The two bumble into a giant Ponzi scheme run by one David Ershon (Steve Coogan), a little sleaze who attempts (successfully) to bribe them off the scent until he can make the Big Bank Transfer (another parody of “countdown to zero” suspense movies). The filmmakers give in a little to the temptation to incorporate chases and shootouts into the action, and the comic momentum drops off toward the end. But they get it back with a sly resolution and broaden the critique in the credits, with a quick history of Ponzi schemes, bailouts, and TARP’s, all of which they equate as cons run on a gullible (or greedy) public.
“The Other Guys” is appropriately rated “PG-13,” for violence, language, and sexual content. I’m not a fan of sequels, generally, but it might be fun to see Ferrell and Wahlberg reprise these roles, a la the “Lethal Weapon” series. This one, in any case, figures to be a summer hit.