I came across The Other Guys on Netflix over the weekend, and my wife wanted to watch it, so we watched it. I first saw the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg cop comedy in theaters when it was released in 2010, but it’s been at least ten years since I last watched it. Honestly, I may have only seen it once before, but many of its individual scenes and lines are etched in my memory. “I am a peacock, you have to let me fly!” was quoted endlessly in my high school, so I may have seen it second-hand.
It has an interesting place in the Adam McKay canon. I never liked it as much as the director’s other collaborations with Ferrell – Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers – but it was the last original comedy McKay did before moving on to his Serious Movies For Adults trilogy. I didn’t like The Big Short, but now that kind of political satire seems like the only kind of movie McKay wants to do. It’s a shame because he has a knack for internalizing the rules of a genre – action, in the case of The Other Guys – and working in that style while filtering it through a comedic lens.
The Other Guys opens with a prime example of this, an exciting and fun action scene in which cops Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson inflict millions of dollars in property damage while chasing down criminals. When they return to be celebrated at the office, their paperwork is entrusted to Will Ferrell’s Allen Gamble, a happy pencil pusher, and Mark Wahlberg’s Terry Hoitz, a former rising star in the department who was sidelined after shooting “biracial angel” Derek Jeter, earning himself the nickname “Yankee Clipper”.
It’s Jackson and Johnson’s cops that provide the film’s best and most surprising moment. When chasing criminals across town, the pair follow them to the roof of the building, only for the suspects to exit portable ziplines and descend the building, cut the line with bolt cutters, and flee. As Johnson and Jackson reach the roof, Foo Fighters’ My Hero begins to play, setting the stage for epic action. Jackson turns to Johnson and says, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking, partner?” Johnson replies, “Aim for the bushes” and they throw a punch. Then they leap from the multi-story building and crash like big, bad bugs onto the sidewalk below.
It’s a shocking moment, and it works just as well now as it did in 2010. My wife let out a “What?!” when it happened, and I remember my friends and I reacted the same way to the theater. It’s kinda funny on paper, but McKay’s direction is why it works so well. He shoots The Other Guys as an action movie, not as an action comedy. He spends time making Jackson and Johnson crucial supporting characters, who we think will be at the center of the action throughout the film. He gives us an exciting opening chase scene so that when he pulls the bait and switch, he actually strikes.
In addition, the scene is shot as if the jump should work. The rocking music, the crane shot that frames the two heroes from below to make them look larger than life, the expectation, earned by watching movies where similar gambits pay off, that Johnson and Jackson know what they do. So when we see them hitting the pavement and McKay playing the Irish bagpipes at their joint funeral, surprise hits fast and hard.
Many of the crime and TV movies I grew up enjoying play a little differently after 2020. The Other Guys may not be advocating the abolition of the police – its ending takes a reformist stance, suggesting cops should enshrine their time and resources pursuing the real criminals: the white-collar ones — but it’s refreshing to see a movie that paints its police, top to bottom, as goons. Here is my hero, indeed, right in the sidewalk.
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