Action/Comedy | rated PG-13 (A, L, V) | starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Derek Jeter | directed by Adam McKay | 1:47 mins | note: this is a review of the unrated (R) version

When New York’s hero cops (Samuel L. Jackson & Dwayne Johnson) are put out of action, it creates an opportunity for paperwork-pushing desk jockeys to hit the streets. Itching to get back out there after being put on the desk in disgrace Detective Hoitz (Mark Whalberg) and straight-laced accountant Gamble (Will Ferrell) follow a permit violator that leads them to a massive corporate conspiracy and more action than Gamble ever wanted.

Was I a complete moron for expecting The Other Guys to be a parody of the buddy cop movie? It looks like one. It plants itself firmly inside the cop genre and allows it’s most farcical whims to take over. From it’s mis-matched cops premise to it’s roster of random New York centered cameos to a finale that explodes in a hail of bullets the movie follows in the footsteps of a theoretical American Hot Fuzz. But it doesn’t really comment on or seize upon anything in that genre deserving of parody. And by the end it has ditched the farce almost entirely to deliver a political message. To satirize genre conventions just right requires a focus that Will Ferrell and long-time collaborating director Adam McKay lack in spades.

Instead of a cop movie ribbing, Other Guys is Will Ferrell’s cop movie with he and McKay’s usual buckshot approach spraying random jokes all over the police set pieces. But in Other Guys their range is wider than usual. Instead of all the gags centering on Will Ferrell doing a man-child act, rinse/repeat, the movie aims all over the place from Michael Keaton’s chief unknowingly referencing TLC lyrics to Ferrell’s geek being a huge hit with women, brushing off the advances of his gorgeous wife (Eva Mendes) to an endless string of Prius jokes (proving there is still comic gold to be mined from that workhorse) to Ferrell’s high school pimp days to Wahlberg’s explosive outbursts. It all elicits a “that’s funny” more than actual spontaneous belly laughs because of McKay’s inability to keep the movie corralled enough to nail a punch line. 

Other Guys also seems oddly self-censored. Instead of going for the R-rating as Step Brothers did, all of the characters in this movie only use the first letter of the more vulgar obscenities. Basically, the movie is a complete mess, but it’s an entertaining, highly watchable mess.

The funnier Step Brothers looked like it was shot on a handy cam and made out of toothpicks so visually, Other Guys is a glossy step up for McKay. Working with their biggest budget to date, the director proves that he can visually deliver an action scene even if this movie requires that action to be undercut with a gag. Two car chases (one opening with Jackson and Johnson that made me wish I was going to see that movie instead) and a slow motion, paper-raining board room shoot-out are highlights of the film.

Also completely all over the map is a story that goes from convoluted to straight-up preachy. Had you told me that I would one day see a Will Ferrell movie that ending with an animated Michael Moore-style Powerpoint presentation rattling off statistics about TARP bailouts, CEO bonuses and decreasing police pensions I would never have believed it. But here we have it. McKay gives his lead a wooden gun and has them run over a body at a crime scene and then expects us to take the whole production seriously when it shifts gears, hits a sharp right turn and decides to reiterate the exact same Capitalism-fosters-greed message we just saw in Capitalism: A Love Story and Casino Jack and the United States of Money. It’s a jaw-dropping miscalculation.

The usually plotless, random-for-random’s sake Will Ferrell movie tends to make my skin crawl. The Other Guys for it’s convoluted story, even for it not knowing enough about the cop movie to satirize it, for it’s many, many flaws, still has a backbone that is better than nothing. With Ferrell perfectly subdued and Walhberg a consistently solid straight man in his hip pockets, McKay’s machine gun approach makes the movie so busy, so packed with strangely interesting characters, running gags and Eva Mendes eye candy that it never bores. Even as gags without laughs go by, the whole ridiculous, chaotic affair still kept me entertained throughout.