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MOVIE REVIEW: Ferrell, McKay partner for best movie yet in 'Other Guys'

Photo by Macall Polay

Photo by Macall Polay

The Other Guys

(PG-13)

3 1/2 out of 4 stars

Since leaving "Saturday Night Live" in 2002, Will Ferrell has made a few decent art-house films but has spent the bulk of his time churning out mostly horrible action comedies. With little exception, these movies -- however bad -- always manage to turn a healthy profit. He is one of the few remaining stars who can virtually guarantee a strong opening weekend, no matter what the quality of the product.

"The Other Guys" is Ferrell's fifth collaboration with writer/director Adam McKay and is by far the best movie either of them has made. It is the kind of movie people who generally despise Ferrell will love and there are two reasons why.

McKay seems to be the only filmmaker who is able to keep Ferrell's considerable energy in check and thus force him to pay attention to subtle details. In both "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights," McKay let Ferrell go nuts but kept him on a short leash and got him to actually act. When not playing the fool full-time ("Stranger than Fiction"), Ferrell is surprisingly effective.

Recognizing a rising tide floats all boats, McKay also surrounds Ferrell with a supporting cast that not only makes his leading man appear more talented, they do most of the heavy lifting. With the notable exception of two or three scenes in this film, Ferrell is the straight man throughout, and for the most part he and McKay let everyone else get the laughs. "The Other Guys" is a gut-busting, mismatched/buddy-cop comedy that both skewers and pays homage to the genre and it's the finest movie of its kind since the first "Lethal Weapon."

For reasons wisely not explained until late in the film, Det. Allen Gamble (Ferrell) is content to be a desk jockey and occupy himself with everyone else's bothersome paperwork. He's a doormat and the butt of all jokes and the source of endless frustration for his easily agitated partner Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg).

Relegated to his desk for making a major sports related blunder years ago, Terry is chomping at the bit to get back into action and redeem himself and isn't beyond bending the rules in order to do so. It is only after a misfortunate event involving the precinct's two biggest guns (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) that Terry was reason to be professionally optimistic, but he'll need Allen's help if he wants to succeed.

In much the same manner as an episode of "Law & Order," McKay and co-writer Chris Henchy take a topical subject (corporate greed and government bailouts) and make it the main plot point. Acclaimed British thespian Steve Coogan co-stars as David Ershon, a slimy but polished financial "expert" who is up to his eyeballs in bogus dealings and more than a few international thugs want his hide.

A lot of people in high places wish Ershon to be left alone, and again the writers take their sweet time in doling out all of the details. It's rare for an action comedy to put such a heavy emphasis on plot and this alone lends the movie an uncharacteristic degree of artistic legitimacy.

Dedicated Ferrell fans can rest assured that in addition to a smart story, there's still a bunch of bawdy bathroom humor, unchecked testosterone, explosions, car chases and boatloads of not-so-subtle sexual innuendo to be found here. Despite all of its intellectual qualities, "The Other Guys" is at heart a rip-roaring, crowd-pleasing, summer popcorn extravaganza -- something that is in desperate short supply this year. (Sony/Columbia)