A lot of people will be put off The Other Guys simply by reading the cast list and looking at the poster art:
This will be a crying shame. Not only is this an amusingly diverting movie (as long as you like Will Ferrell, which I’m not ashamed to admit I do), it also has does some pretty interesting things with your expectations of a Hollywood buddy cop film.
I should probably explain what its about, to ease the confusion obviously created by the highly subtle promotional material. Samuel L Jackson and The Rock are bad ass cops from the Bad Boys school of shout, shoot and shit law enforcement. They begin the film by conducting a traditional movie chase scene, replete with explosions, gunplay and more melon farmers than you can shake a stick at. It’s pretty clear at this point, that this is hardly cinema verite.
But just when you’ve settled into your little ‘oh, its a stupid action movie’ comfort zone, the writer throws you a happy little plot-grenade. For absolutely no reason whatsoever, the heroes fling themselves off a building, are lovingly captured soaring through the air in glorious slo-mo, and then smash gracefully in the pavement below. This is where Ferrell and Wahlberg step in, and things get a bit loose.
The idea is that, in time honoured buddy cop film tradition, two mis-matched detectives must step up and smash a criminal conspiracy, and in doing so find the common ground that forges a true friendship between them. And at first, that’s exactly what happens in The Other Guys. However, once you start to think about it, there is something else going on.
You are not watching a film
If anything, The Other Guys is a loose collection of comedy scenarios in which Mark Wahlberg can look sufficiently annoyed and Will Ferrell can do his shout-nonsense-at-the-top-of-your-lungs schtick. And those comedy scenarios are not connected in any meaningful way by a plot.
To reach for an example: At one point, it is revealed that Ferrell’s character holds a deep, dark secret that supposedly accounts for his wimpy persona. Now without spoiling anything (because it is very funny, if hardly lucid), this digression has absolutely no bearing on the plot from this point on. All it provides is an amusing series of catchphrases for Ferrell’s character to spout, all of which are lost on the other characters.
There are bizarre side-plots, unexplained acts and scenes which struggle to fit within the overall narrative (for instance, the lawyer jumping out of the window). However, this does not mean that they are not important and valuable parts of the film. Why does the captain continually quote the titles of TLC songs, and then deny it? Who knows. Is it funny? Oh yes it is.
It’s a strange state of affairs to have come to, when a film that might be forgiven for expecting to be a perfunctory studio piece, completely eschews the rules of narrative, plotting, character and indeed causality. I’m not attempting to claim that this is an intentional formal innovation (though it may be), but it is exciting to watch.
Coming so soon after Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a film that takes a gigantic hammer to film-making convention, and doesn’t pander to the audience, this is a rather exciting trend. Instead of being confined to the margins, to the self-conscious intellectualism of the indie scene, stylish experimentation is now something to be injected into exuberant comedies and big budget blockbusters.
There is something else going on as well…
Another recession flick?
The Other Guys, perhaps down to its lack of plot, refrains from making any serious political or social points. That is, until the credits are actually rolling:
What? Did they forget what kind of film they actually released? Or did they just put it something they knew would resonate with audiences without being aware of exactly what it was they were trading off?
The way I see it, the media is up to its old tricks, uncovering buried parts of the national subconscious before they are articulated as part of an actual political programme. The Other Guys joins TV series like Hung or Leverage as part of my collection of examples of why I believe that we (the organised Left) are right. There is a pool of class anger in America, anger against the bankers and bosses, anger at everything that the financial system took away and a fervent wish for someone to fight back.
Does this mean that the television and film industries are indeed, as right wing commentators have claimed for years, becoming institutionally left wing? Hell no. Studio bosses are among the richest executives in the world, and the corporations that own the media are as likely to support right wing causes. That said, the nature of the commodities they produce leaves them open to expressing popular ideas and concerns. The working class has to buy what they are selling, and so on some level, the corporations must churn out material that speaks to their lives.
This has left a nice little space open for conscious political action by committed writers and directors to essentially use this fault line to force the system to question itself.