"The Other Guys" and "The Expendables"
Yes, I've been to a whole lot of movies lately. By reviewing these two I'll finally be caught up on everything I've gone to in the past week and a half.
The Other Guys - An action/cop comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg guarantees one thing. Lots and lots of yelling. What it also fortunately has is its share of good laughs and surprisingly good action sequences from the director of "Anchorman" (Adam McKay).
As the title suggests, "The Other Guys" is not the story of two superstar cops. The superstars are there (Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock, who wants to be called Dwayne Johnson now but once you've gone by The Rock that ain't goin' away), but when a foot chase doesn't go as planned, it's up to detectives Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) to pick up the slack.
Unfortunately for the NYPD, Gamble is a forensic accountant who is more useful with a paperclip than a firearm and Hoitz is best known for accidentally shooting Derek Jeter in the leg before the seventh game of the World Series, earning him the name "the Yankee Clipper." (A joke involving a particular teammate of Jeter's was especially enjoyable for me.)
Insisting, "I'm a peacock! You gotta let me fly!" Hoitz is determined to take on a big drug case and in spite of his intense dislike for his cluelessly cheerful partner, he brings Gamble onto the case. At gun point. Being that this is a comedy from Will Ferrell's crew, Gamble and Hoitz naturally screw things up early on no matter what they do. Their captain (a hilariously put upon Michael Keaton) doesn't want them on the case and another pair of detectives (Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans, Jr.) mocks them at every opportunity. As things get worse however, the two naturally, however slowly, bond as they try to crack the case.
As a buddy cop comedy, this is nowhere near the greatness of "Hot Fuzz," but I wasn't expecting it to be. With an enjoyably over the top Wahlberg handling the lion's share of the yelling, Ferrell mainly plays Gamble as a milquetoast fellow, but he has some explosive moments of his own. The two play nicely off of each other and thankfully the script by McKay and Chris Henchy gives them more to work with than "Dinner for Schmucks" gave Paul Rudd and Steve Carell.
In addition to Keaton's very funny turn the supporting cast is highlighted by Eva Mendes as Gamble's deeply devoted wife. The scenes between her and Ferrell are amongst the funniest in the film as he constantly insults her looks and personality with her sweetly taking it in stride. The biggest disappointment of the film also regards the supporting cast however.
A note to American comedy directors: When you put Steve Coogan in your film, give him material worthy of him. Ben Stiller got it wrong in the otherwise good "Tropic Thunder" and McKay and company get it wrong here. As funny of a comic actor as Ferrell is, Coogan could run circles around him, but as a slimy corporate villain, he is given nothing to work with. Anybody could have played this character and it wouldn't have made a difference. If they'd provided Coogan with a real character to play this would have been a far funnier movie than it already is. It really is frustrating because the average American filmgoer has no idea how funny the man really is.
In spite of a few shortcomings and the sense that it's sort of running out of steam near the end, "The Other Guys" is a funny enough movie with some pleasantly surprising car chases. 7.5/10.
The Expendables - Obviously every time you see a movie you want it to be good. But there are times when you find yourself hoping even more that you'll enjoy yourself. A couple of months after the movie version of "The A-Team" mostly got being a big, dumb, fun action movie right, "The Expendables" has come along, starring the biggest lineup of action stars ever assembled. I hoped for a big, fun, and dumb in the right way kind of time. Well it was big. It was dumb, but it wasn't that much fun.Directed by Sylvester Stallone, this is the story of Barney Ross (Stallone) and his crew of mercenaries who travel the world killing bad guys and blowin' stuff up for large sums of money. The crew consists of Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Ying Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture, an MMA guy from Everett), and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews).
After Gunner loses it on a job, Ross decides he doesn't want him on the team anymore as they go into their next mission. The mission comes from a man who calls himself Mr. Church (Bruce Willis). Then Trench (Arnie) walks into the room with Church and Ross and we have the three biggest action heroes of all-time in one scene. This should have been a nice nod to the movies of the Reagan years. I wanted some good laughs here mixed with a sense of, "They've still got it." Sadly though this is the moment I knew something was really wrong. While Arnie was never the most skilled thesp in the world, his rustiness is noticeable. Delivering cheesy Arnie lines just isn't his thing anymore. Willis meanwhile just seems to be forcing...something, I don't know what, but he's just off, and Stallone's grasp of humor just isn't there. I should have known not to trust the star of "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" with pulling off sly humor. (I just realized I put "sly humor" when referencing Stallone. That was not intentional but I'm not changing it now.)
The rest of the movie involves Ross and his crew taking on a South American dictator. Along the way Ross has to find his soul again after years of...ya know, killin' people for money and stuff so he's gotta save the dictator's daughter who's fighting the good fight and...things. That's about it plot wise.
Big, dumb action movies don't tend to be known for their heart or for making us care why a boat or a compound needed blowin' up. The thing is, you don't really need that if you give us some characters who we enjoy. As director, co-writer, and star, Stallone just doesn't make Ross very interesting or terribly likeable. It seems like on all counts, Sly is just mailing it in, believing that this collection of stars will make the movie automatically good. Statham saves the movie from being a complete drag. He brings the personality, badassery, and understanding of the sort of humor a BDAM (big, dumb action movie) needs to work. The same story line with him acting as a one man wrecking crew like Arnie in "Commando" probably would have been a lot of fun. Li and Crews are both cool when they have something to do, but each only really gets one sequence. Other than that they're just kind of there. Then as one of the villains there's Steve Austin who takes the "I'm not gonna say anything, I'm just gonna stand here and look badass" thing way too far. And finally there's Dolph Lundgren who proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the only words he should ever be allowed to say on film are, "I must break you," in an attempted Russian accent.
Throughout it all, I kept thinking that the Spike TV logo was going to suddenly appear in the corner of the screen. People who are predisposed to not like this sort of movie are probably asking, "Well, what did you expect, Bob?" I expected a highly entertaining BDAM. I like a good BDAM for what it is. For those of you who think I'm just being a snob by not liking this, I say again that I like a good BDAM. But this just wasn't it.
"The A-Team" had a sense of fun to it, with characters I liked, that "The Expendables" is lacking. It shows that even when making something considered low brow, there's a fine line between making it work and making something that feels like it was ghost directed by Renny Harlin. 3.5/10.