POSTED ON AUGUST 11, 2010:
Two Steps Up, One Step Back
The Other Guys gets the laughs right, and Step Up 3D has hot people dancing
Fumbling and Shooting. Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell tickle the funny bone with their comedic pairing as bumbling cops finally on the verge of breaking their big case in The Other Guys.
I'd probably have to see it once more before pronouncing The Other Guys the best studio comedy of the year -- so far.
I know that sounds like epic praise, but when you consider much of the competition, ranging from the merely passable charms of films such as Hot Tub Time Machine, MacGruber or Dinner for Schmucks to the cruelly unfunny, torturous affronts -- wait, why am I using plural when there's only one Cop Out? Oh yeah, I had almost succeeded in forgetting about Grown Ups. It's not a slam on The Other Guys to say the measure of its success is, in part, due to its mediocre brethren.
But the fact is, after months of banality and missed opportunities, the brazenly fun and funny new Adam McKay/Will Ferrell effort feels like having the cast taken off my broken funny bone and running a marathon.
The flick hits the ground running with a great opening action sequence that finds super cops Danson (Dwayne Johnson) and Highsmith (Sam Jackson) in the middle of a wildly destructive car chase that ends with them nabbing the bad guys and their massive load of ... a quarter pound of weed. Bill for the property damage: $12 million.
All the other cops in their precinct worship the ground they walk on, including Detective Allen Gamble (Ferrell), a forensic accountant whose desk-bound job suits him just fine, but who idolizes Danson and Highsmith like all the rest.
Except for one, Gamble's equally desk-bound partner, Detective Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), who seethes with jealousy that he's not out making the big busts and getting all the action.
Even worse, Hoitz detests Gamble's eccentricities and doltishness, though the fact remains, he's not the brightest bulb in the marquee, either. He's still taking shit from people for accidentally shooting Derek Jeter in the leg before a series ending Game 7.
But an unexpected -- and hilarious -- event takes Danson and Highsmith out of the equation, and the crime they were investigating blooms into a multi-national mystery with a slimy investor (Steve Coogan) at its heart, and a byzantine embezzlement scheme that just might suit Gamble's and Hoitz's questionable talents.
The result is 107-minutes of clever, propulsive, surprisingly action-packed hilarity that is pretty much the polar opposite of Cop Out in every way.
Where Kevin Smith (who admittedly didn't write that turd) did nothing to turn the genre's tropes on their ear, Adam McKay cleverly plays with the tropes of buddy-cop dynamics to create a couple of characters that are familiar, yet new. Where Smith apparently seems to have lost any sense of how to construct a good looking film -- and he never had much of that sense to begin with -- McKay proves himself not only capable of staging ambitious, well-crafted action sequences but also investing the film with a distinct, inventive visual style while not forgetting the laughs.
One scene finds Gamble and Hoitz deciding to go out and get drunk after a bitter disappointment seems to begin to thaw the ice between them. Instead of having a regular montage of their debauchery, McKay turns it into an extended still-shot as the camera wanders about the living statues of revelers, frozen in mid-party and revealing funny little caught-in-time moments with an oddly pretty style. It's a cool scene, and a sure sign McKay's not settling for average in terms of visual or story telling chops.
Although that story is a bit muddled -- it has a fairly biting anti-corporate message in there -- it's not just an excuse to string together action and comedy set pieces, though they are the real draw here.
As the story unfolds, an ensemble cast including Michael Keaton as the precinct captain whose frustration with Gamble and Hoitz's involvement in this case stems from more than just their ineptitude and Eva Mendes as Gamble's surreally hot wife, Sheila, they all figure into the plot in some meaningful way. The script breathes in quite a bit of comedic detail and unexpected layers, too, even for its one-off characters.
There are so many little gems of rapid fire comic timing, it would be impossible to catch them all in one viewing, and McKay's assurance behind a camera coupled with his ability to capitalize on the innate humor of his talent make The Other Guys a fine example of what went wrong with Jay Roach and the recent missed opportunity of Dinner for Schmucks.
Mark Wahlberg should keep doing comedies. The last two flicks I've seen him in, the hilariously awful The Happening and the just awful The Lovely Bones, cast Marky Mark as the concerned protagonist, and in both of those movies, he distinguished himself by coming off like a 14-year old girl having an anxiety attack. In The Happening it was funny; in The Lovely Bones it was just maddening.
I don't think he can do that type of role, though he was served poorly by his directors. But give him an action flick or a comedy, and he's totally in his element. Here Wahlberg gets to combine both, and he more than holds his own against Ferrell's more trademark shtick.
Speaking of Ferrell, burn out always seems to be hot on his heels -- his box office is down -- but here McKay (and I'm sure to some degree Ferrell) has crafted a character that finally made me forget to wonder when Ferrell would strip down to his tighty-whiteys and milk his bulbous man-sweater for laughs. Thankfully, he didn't go back to the well.
As Gamble, Ferrell plays it straight for the most part, which gives the character a different feel than his more absurdist and repetitive characterizations. As much as I love Ron Burgandy, there's no sign of unawareness in Ferrell's turn here.
I can't imagine anyone not finding something to like. The Other Guys is so funny and pleasing that I forgot I was watching a PG-13 film. Usually, the best among this genre cross over into R-rated territory. With that in mind, it's kind of a testament that The Other Guys doesn't ever feel like it's pulling its punches.
I'd almost rather talk about the theater I saw Step Up 3D in more than Step Up 3D. I caught it out at the new Cinemark in Broken Arrow, and I have to say it's a good time to go.
Corporate is probably still hanging out making sure everything runs smoothly and the brand new equipment and screens made for a crisp, vibrant presentation, which Step Up's quite good 3D made even more depressingly immersive.
You should go. As long as you see something that isn't this.
In reality, Step Up 3D is not just the third film in a franchise I wasn't aware deserved a theatrical release after the Channing Tatum magnum opus that was Step Up, but also a movie in the old tradition of '80s teen dance flicks like Breakin' and Roller Boogie.
The basics are all the same: Groups of teens celebrate and compete in their love of the latest dance craze. Generally, they are divided by the street kids and the rich ones. There's usually a coveted hang out involved that's in danger of being demolished or taken over by some uptight adult who just doesn't get it. And, don't forget the "across-the-tracks" love story.
All that is present here, to some degree or another, Step Up 3D replaces the uptight adult with an erstwhile friend who joins a rival club in order to extract vengeance against his old club when he's booted for throwing a contest, but the rest is more or less the same.
And while films such as Breakin' or its superior sequel Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo could never be accused of being very good, this squeaky-clean, Disneyfied version of 2010 is so groaningly horrid, it almost crosses over into cult-quality crap. As much as I hated it, I could totally see screening this alongside Roller Boogie with friends and a military-grade supply of booze.
Good example, Moose (Adam G. Sevani) is at an underground club in the bathroom when a group of rival dancers from The Dragons burst in. Moose is an NYU student who's blowing off a world-class education to join The Pirates, whose leader Luke (Rick Malambri), drafted Moose after noticing that his moves were "B-Fab" (Born From A Boom Box). Oh, God.
Anyway, these rival dance-gangsters want to start scrapping with Moose and what happens next can only be described as a "dance fight." They dance like they are fighting. But not really.
It's the kind of scene that had I been watching this trashed with friends would have had me rolling.
The only real up side to any of this -- besides that it does eventually end -- were the admittedly well done 3D and some of the choreography, though director Jon Chu can't resist throwing everything from balloons to bubbles to CG Icee's at the camera, or filling the soundtrack with robot-sounds during all the popping and locking. In fact, the digital photography was so slick and sharp and dimensional, it almost took on a hyper-reality that I can't confess to having seen before.
Too bad it only accentuates the horrible acting (Malambri has all the gravitas of reality show host), lousy writing (did Moose ever finish that test? It was worth a quarter of his final grade? No one cares.), silly, clichéd dialogue, and the candy-coated twee-ness of it all. I guess if you want to look at hot people for way too long in 3D you could do worse, but I'd hate to see what that was.
Just see Breakin', instead. They're going to try and keep making more of these if you encourage them.
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