Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Other Guys (2010) – Review

The Other Guys is funny, at times – and mainly due to Will Ferrell – but not all the time, and not nearly enough. The film does not really have an identity that the audience can get behind and follow. Is it an absurdist comedy, a buddy-cop action comedy, a parody of the buddy-cop action comedy, or just a messy un-cohesive mixture of all these things? The film plays like a buddy-cop action comedy for the majority, but falters when it gets sidetracked by overplayed comedy bits (that often are not even funny) and genre parody that contradicts the themes and tones set in place in other parts of the film. For example, there is a sequence in which the two main characters go for a drink after a tough day. The scene is presented in a series of flowing stills throughout the bar depicting ever escalating events as the night goes on. This scene makes no sense in context to the rest of the film, thus alienating the audience from the characters and the narrative. There are cues that inform the viewers that really this is a parody, but then the next cue tells them no wait this is really a buddy-cop action comedy genre film, no wait this is a parody of the genre – director Adam McKay does not seem to know what film he wants to make. Worse, the main characters are poorly teamed (and this is the primary killer of comedy, things that would otherwise be funny do not play nearly as well when there is a lack of timing and interplay between the actors, which come from chemistry). There is almost no chemistry between any of the actors in the film, but especially between Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg – they just sort of yell at each other in varying degrees of volume and intensity and that is supposed to be funny. This lack of chemistry only compounds the issue with many scenes that do not work causing them to stick out even more.  The lack of identity leaves the viewer on guard, trying to decipher the language of the film rather than enjoying the jokes and the film. With no clear identity every plot point, action beat, line of dialog is questioned, thus the audience cannot fully invest in the film. On top of all the narrative issues, lack of chemistry and many suspect gags, the plot of the film is completely underwhelming. The audience does not even care about whether the plot is resolved or not, especially since they are not invested in the characters. The shooting style of the film is also odd. The film feels alienating like the viewer is an outsider the whole time. The action scenes particularly seem disconnected from what is on the screen and what the audience should feel due to the visuals. Everything is a bit off here. But, Ferrell has quite a few moments of hilarity. He is the only reason this film works at all. Any funny that this film offers is directly due to Ferrell’s work, despite all the problematic components. The film is disappointing given the talent involved (principally the collaboration between Ferrell and McKay, which have, up until this film, all been good). On the technical side, McKay is off completely directing this film. His narrative is an utter mess structurally, thematically and tonally – the audience has no idea what kind of film they are watching – and again it seems as if McKay has no idea what film he is making. He also completely fails to get his cast on the same page – nothing gels, there is no chemistry, and the result is a lot of funny people and good actors not delivering, and more importantly not coming together to provide a cohesive performance for the film. Michael Keaton for instance, alone, his performance is funny, but it is sort of abstract – a deconstruction of the buddy-cop captain character, but since tonally, the viewer does not know for sure if this is that type of movie, Keeton’s performance just seems sort of strange and does not really work or bring anything to the film (which is a shame, because this performance in the right film would be great). Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson give caricature performances of hero cops, but then this is turned on its head in a scene that sets the tone really for the whole film to be confusing (as you literally watch it and think, wait what is happening right now and why is this happening – and not because the plot is complex).  Rob Riggle and Steve Coogan have been funny in other films, but neither works in this (Coogan is almost anti-funny – scene killer). Ray Stevenson, who has been brilliant in other things (um, like Rome) is given nothing to do and is completely wasted. Jon Brion’s score is messy as well (not surprising given McKay’s direction). There are serious themes and then self referential nods to the buddy-cop genre that do not even work in the context of what is on the screen or has happened in the film. Oliver Wood’s cinematography (which is usually good) is awkward and disengaging; the audience never feels like a part of the film emotionally. And Clayton Hartley’s production design is adequate – though some of the locations are interesting. The Other Guys is a clutter-filled film of thematic and tonal chaos and plainly just does not work – however, there are a few bits that are very funny and Ferrell does some strong work. 6/10

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