The Other Guys is: 1) an unoriginal slapstick laugher in the same vein as most B-grade buddy cop movies from the last decade; 2) a nonetheless distinctively styled film, punctuated by awkward pauses, timely pop culture references, and outrageous yet sacredly delivered dialogue that bears all the hallmarks of an Adam McKay/Will Ferrell production (the best being Anchorman, the worst being Step Brothers); and 3) a comedy with a conscience, complete with a closing credit sequence delivering devastating facts about the financial collapse and the evils of corporate greed. You know, because the bad guy in this movie is a financial swindler of some sort.
The blending and tension between these three identities makes The Other Guys at least the most intriguing comedy of the year, if not at times also the funniest. It's charming in an unlikely way, just like Will Ferrell's character, Allen: both are often irritating, both are sometimes brilliant, and neither is exactly what it seems. It can be debated whether a comedy like The Other Guys gains anything from tapping into recession-era angst, but what the movie loses in misplaced moralizing and clunky scene transitions, it nearly makes up in the welcome presence of Michael Keaton as the captain of Ferrell and Mark Walhberg's division.
Aside from his voice work in the recent Toy Story 3, the last memorable screen image I had of Keaton was from Out of Sight some twelve years ago. Keaton is the perfect actor to play sarcastic, fast-talking, sharp-tongued law enforcement officers, but there is a soft edge to him in The Other Guys that nicely balances out his character and makes his delivery alone almost worth the price of admission. He reminds me of a younger J.K. Simmons, nailing dry punchlines while never overtly trying to be funny. In a movie with as much disappointing physical comedy as this one, such humor is essential.
For their part, Ferrell and Wahlberg have workable comedic chemistry, especially in their office banter and Wahlberg's endless teasing. If it's uneven in pacing and tone, as a whole The Other Guys still boasts more memorable lines than any other McKay/Ferrell movie since Anchorman. But, and this is important, it never approaches the biting wit and confidence of something like Hot Fuzz, probably because McKay doesn't fully commit or follow through with whatever he was trying to do with this. It's an action comedy, then a light-hearted drama, then a bizarro documentary. After all, what kind of summer comedy starts with an explosive car chase and ends with this?: