If The Other Guys had stopped about 5 minutes in, it would’ve been the best Funny or Die video ever made. If it’d stopped at about 15 minutes, it would’ve been a great action movie parody. If they’d cut it off around an hour, it’d be a really strong Will Ferrell and Adam McKay comedy. An hour forty, and it’s a definitely-not-their-best-but-one-of-the-better-ones Will Ferrell and Adam McKay comedy.
But at some point — I’m guessing very close to the end of the process — somebody decided that this didn’t have to be just another silly and forgettable movie and could very easily be turned into Relevant Social Commentary. They tacked on a jab at the government bailouts, literally at the last minute, which would have just seemed like another gag that wasn’t quite inflated enough: I was left thinking, “Really? That’s all they’re doing with that whole Anne Heche subplot?” But then over the closing credits, they pounded it home with a series of animated infographics about Ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff, and the cost of bailing out AIG and others.
The whole movie is built around not knowing when to quit. You can tell they’ve got their own little formula going, making movies based on the idea that if you get Will Ferrell in front of a camera with a bunch of reasonably funny people and a sliver of a concept, you can just let the camera roll and eventually you’ll end up with gold. And it mostly works. Sure, the scenes tend to go on a little bit too long, and there are several you can tell aren’t as funny as they were hoping they’d be, and the movie doesn’t really arc so much as gradually deflate. But there’s nothing that falls absolutely flat, everyone in the cast does a good job with the material, and there are several moments that are really funny.
But it’s not strong enough to outweigh the bad taste left by that ending. It’s like having a pretty good but not outstanding dinner and not finding the hair on the plate until the last few bites. Because these just don’t seem like people who can get away with complaining about excessive spending.
I doubt that Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are pulling in the ludicrous salaries of corporate execs, but I’m pretty sure they don’t work cheap. And the rest of the cast (apart from Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, who pretty much had to be in the movie for it to work at all) aren’t super-expensive A-Listers, but most of them were at one point or another. Even discounting the fact that most of them are probably friends of the filmmakers or people treating it as an extended Funny or Die project, it seemed like kind of a waste of casting money. Throughout I kept thinking, “Did you really need to spring for Anne Heche for such a small part?” Or “Titus Pullo should either have more action scenes or better dialogue.” Or even “That’s the woman from all that stuff whose name I can never remember. She should have more than four lines.”
What’s weird is that I never think about that kind of thing during movies. But all through this one, even before the ending, I kept going into producer mode, thinking how expensive everything must’ve been. There are at least fifty demolished cars, and at most five of them were needed for a punchline. (No seriously: they have a Prius drive over the tops of two other cars after a gag is over, just to show it driving away). At least one helicopter explodes, and I don’t have any idea many real-world helicopters that ends up being. Multiple buildings and storefronts are blown up or demolished. Scenes are filmed in penthouses and soon-to-be-demolished offices which can’t be cheap. I had a dollar-to-joke-payoff counter running through my head the whole time, and after the first thirty minutes or so, it wasn’t giving a very good return on investment.
But even with all that, they didn’t know when to quit. After all, being expensive isn’t the same thing as being evil, and I’ve got little doubt the movie will end up making money, even without the product placement money from Bed Bath and Beyond. (And Toyota, assuming all the exposure for the Prius outweighed having characters compare it to a vagina). I got about ten bucks’ worth of entertainment out of it, the theaters were pretty full so no doubt the investors will make their money back, everybody wins. It’d be hard to equate even an over-budgeted movie with large-scale corporate corruption.
Except the little infographics at the end tried to put a populist spin on everything. They had a little chart showing how everyone’s 401(k) is worth half as much as it was before the sub-prime mortgage collapse. And a little elevator showing the increasing pay disparity between corporate CEOs and regular employees. And a businessman on a hammock with a big number over his head showing how much CEOs of failed companies made in bonuses.
And that’s where they lost me. Because I couldn’t help but take a couple zeroes off that number and reckon that that’s how much Will Ferrell or Mark Wahlberg have made for a couple of movies. Or that just one of those scenes with a gag that didn’t quite pay off probably cost as much as I’ll make in two years of working. Or that some guys made millions from running their companies into the ground, and other guys are making millions by making repeated jokes about TLC in 2010. Either way, they’re seeing a lot more money than I am. And that’s not exactly something you want to be drawing attention to.
I guess in the end, I would’ve rather seen a movie about the first guys. Because every second of Samuel Jackson and The Rock going over the top was worth every smashed car, bus, and facade of the Trump Tower it took to make it.