I have mixed feelings about this buddy cop comedy. I went in hoping for a satire of outlandish cop flicks. For the most part that's what I got. Then the film hints at something more, dealing with desk cops doing "boring" police work to catch the biggest thieves like Bernie Madoff. I really wish this area had been developed deeper instead of focusing on unconnected and very broad character moments. Then again some of those moments are really funny. But then again some of them aren't.
P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson, PULP FICTION) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson, GET SMART) are NYC's celebrity cops. They engage in all sorts of reckless chases and stunts, destroying more than they save and yet they are still touted as heroes. Detectives Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell, ANCHORMAN) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg, THE DEPARTED) are the other guys. Gamble gleefully does the paperwork for cocky Highsmith and Danson. Hoitz is riding a desk not because he wants to, but because of an accidental shooting, which has made him the pariah of the city. Hoitz taunts Gamble into taking more dangerous cases, but Gamble is more interested in a scaffolding violation involving businessman David Ershon (Steve Coogan, TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY).
The film is at its best when it's poking fun at ridiculous cop flick clichés. The opening chase sequence with Highsmith and Danson is classic in how much public property is damaged and how innocent civilians are endangered. At one point Highsmith crashes his muscle car into the side of a double-decker bus and then commandeers the bus with the passengers still aboard in order to continue his pursuit. Gamble and Danson get first hand experience with how explosions in movies are far safer looking then they are in real life. And you have to see the John Woo-esque gun fight at an investment meeting.
Where the film gets into hit or miss territory is with the character development of Gamble and Hoitz. In addition to being very broad, it seems less biting in its critique of cop clichés. A scene that works is one where Gamble takes Hoitz to meet his ball and chain. When Terry meets Mrs. Gamble, played by the very sexy looking Eva Mendes, he keeps asking Allen whom that really is. Where the film falters is with how much time it focuses on Allen and his relationship with his hot wife and how his dark past comes into play. His dark past seems like a stale bit from Ferrell's SNL days. Hoitz's one brief scene with his ex seems like it was written for a completely different film.
Because the story focuses so much on its main characters outside of the investigation, the details of the investigation get very convoluted. Writer/director Adam McKay (ANCHORMAN) and co-writer Chris Henchy squander the opportunity to address the growing threat of white-collar crime with these distractions. They certainly seem interested in it with their credits filled with facts about real life Ponzi schemes and government bailouts.
Here is a great example of what I wished the film had developed more. With pressure from high powers, Gamble and Hoitz are forced to hand over their investigation into corporate crimes to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The official at the SEC is none other than the lawyer of the man they are investigating. He assures them there is no conflict of interest at all. You can't sprinkle brilliant real world satire onto your buddy cop send-up and not expect some people to want it to be more than toppings on the ice cream.
That said the film does show a return to form from Ferrell, who has been in some stinkers of late (ie LAND OF THE LOST). His droll performance makes even the silliest moments work. He has a way of delivering material that isn't the freshest and making you laugh nonetheless. Wahlberg has always been better at comedy than drama. Laughs come from his exasperated reactions to Ferrell's Gamble. And while Jackson and Johnson are for the most part cameo stars, they do deliver some of the funniest moments. Additionally, DAILY SHOW's Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr. as Highsmith and Danson wanna-bes get some great jabs in at Gamble and Hoitz's expense. What goes down at a memorial service is less than dignified, but certainly underlines the testosterone-fueled attitude of crime flicks.
While the film isn't as focused as it could have been, the film has fun with its intended target. It knows cop flick clichés and blows them up. There is nothing subtle about this film. It will probably be some time before I watch another cop movie chase scene and not think of this film.