Since cop movies are already jokes, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg have half their work done for them in The Other Guys. Pick any badge flick cliché and they'll knock it down, cuff it and give it a Tase for good measure.
Just the facts, ma'ams and sirs: The Other Guys is this summer's funniest movie, which is as refreshing as air conditioning, after a barren stretch for comedies starring real people. Not that The Other Guys isn't a cartoon all its own.
There's no better way to spoof standard police movie procedure than doing the car chases, rooftop leaps, shootouts and precinct politics as broader jokes than they've become. The Other Guys runs with that familiarity, stumbles over its own improvisation sometimes, and gets up cackling.
It should be mentioned that The Other Guys contains a sequence involving another cop movie cliché — funerals for fallen officers — that is an unfortunate coincidence considering the recent murders of two Tampa policemen. Context is a key element of humor, and for a couple of minutes the movie isn't as funny.
Ferrell makes a nice return from Land of the Lost as Allen Gamble, a precinct paper-pusher as defiantly clueless as Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby before him. Allen is content with his desk job, unlike his desk mate Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg), a hot head demoted after he accidentally shot Derek Jeter before Game 7 of the World Series. Terry wants action like the busts of their supercop colleagues (Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, poking grand fun at previous paychecks).
Ferrell and Wahlberg are a smart pairing; one famous for being a fool and the other not suffering them gladly in his best performances. Together they find a comedic common ground, toning down or dialing up their particular styles to create an odd couple harmony that's fresher than the buddy-cop concept.
Director/co-writer Adam McKay — Ferrell's collaborator on Anchorman and Talledega Nights — gets the farce started with spectacularly stupid vehicular mayhem, followed by a heist as subtle as the wrecking ball used to pull it off. Anything that a Die Hard flick would deem too incredible is what McKay is aiming for. It's difficult to decide which flammable action hits are being sent up because they all look the same.
Besides the farcical fireworks, The Other Guys is crammed with dialogue destined to be quoted by smart aleck pals, as with previous Ferrell-McKay creations. I haven't jotted down so many ready-to-use wisecracks in many a screening. Few of the jokes could be repeated here, and would lose much without translation by the cast — especially Michael Keaton, hilarious as the obligatory police captain constantly on the heroes' tails, and overdue for the chance.
Feeling comfortable that he isn't the whole show, Ferrell lends a slightly subdued touch to Allen, allowing uptight and scared to be his go-to gags rather than manic delusion. Wahlberg doesn't do goofy well but his reactions — especially when meeting Allen's hot wife (Eva Mendes) — are comically informed by his tough guy persona. These guys will never be Die Hard. Die laughing, however, is a possibility.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.