Movies: The Other Guys * * *
(12A, General Release)
Althhough I find it impossible to dislike him, Will Ferrell was in deep water with the American critics last year following the commercial and critical failure of Land of the Lost, and a career decline was predicted in some quarters.
Crucially, however, Land of the Lost was not written by Ferrell and his regular writing partner Adam McKay, and the pair are happily reunited for the altogether more grounded and successful comedy The Other Guys.
In this film, which McKay also directs, the buddy cop genre is satirised in the most sweeping terms, and the film starts with two very enjoyable cameos from bona fide action heroes.
Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson are Highsmith and Danson, two reckless and flashy Manhattan detectives who always get their man and aren't afraid to crow about it. Hovering on the periphery of their circle and applauding politely are Detectives Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), who share a desk and are only trusted with the most mundane paperwork.
Hoitz is frustrated by this, as he was once a homicide hot-shot until he soiled his bib by accidentally shooting the New York Yankees baseball captain in the leg.
Gamble is a quiet, polite chap, who has never fired his gun at all and is more interested in the finer points of forensic accounting than chasing bad guys.
But Hoitz is determined to get back into the action, and when Highsmith and Danson are unexpectedly removed from the picture, he sees his chance and bullies Gamble into taking on a big case with him.
The crook they're after is an oily British stock tycoon called David Ershon (played with little charisma by Steve Coogan), who Gamble believes is involved in an elaborate plot to cover his company's losses by dipping into the NYPD retirement fund.
But even Hoitz is dubious about this theory, and in their way stands a police captain called Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton), who thinks the pair of them couldn't apprehend a jay-walker.
Even though their friendship is tested and both are threatened with financial ruin and even death, they remain dogged in their pursuit of their man.
Although it flags a bit towards the end and is a little long, The Other Guys is very entertaining overall and silly in the best sense of the word.
Ferrell tones down his hysterics for the most part, and pulls endearing Stan Laurel faces whenever he's about to endure some new brand of slapstick humiliation.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Wahlberg can do comedy, and he is great fun as the excitable, trigger-happy Hoitz, who's infuriated by his partner's relentless bourgeois calm.
Hoitz is none too pleased about Gamble's staggering effect on the ladies, either, and in one of the film's funniest scenes, he recoils in amazement when Gamble brings him home to meet his wife and it turns out to be Eva Mendes. "Who are you?" he keeps saying, unable to accept she could possibly be who Gamble says she is.
There are plenty of other refreshingly daft moments, my favourite being a stand-up row that develops at a police funeral but is conducted entirely in whispers.
Jackson and Johnson embrace their turns as Lethal Weapon-style idiots with commendable gusto, and there are cameos along the way from the likes of Brooke Shields, Rosie Perez and Tracy Morgan.
Quietly and cleverly stealing the show, however, is Keaton.
His Captain Gene Mauch is a typically eccentric comedy creation, who double-jobs at a bathroom warehouse, where he tells his staff to "be careful out there", and keeps quoting the lyrics of TLC songs and then denying he has ever heard of them.
He's terrific and wonderfully irascible, and worth the price of entry all on his own.