The Other Guys | The Switch

The Other Guys | The Switch

The Other Guys
Rating:

Directed by Adam McKay. Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Eva Mendes, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Steve Coogan, Ray Stevenson, Anne Heche, Bobby Cannavale, Zoe Lister Jones, Zach Woods, Andy Buckley, Natalie Zea, Derek Jeter. Written by Adam McKay, Chris Henchy.



A ribald spoof of an often-spoofed genre, Adam McKay´s The Other Guys succeeds where many others have recently failed (I´m looking at you, Cop Out, and also the recent slew of action rom-coms: Knight and Day, Date Night, Killers, etc.) Will Ferrell is more restrained here than usual, but this ranks with his best.

The film stars Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne ‘The Rock´ Johnson as a pair of New York City supercops, the kind of bullets-dodging, buildings-jumping, millions-of-dollars-in-property-destruction-causing action heroes that exist only in the movies. But The Other Guys isn´t about them; it´s about, well, the other guys: Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), paperwork-handling desk jockeys who stick to the precinct while the others get all the glory.

Allen is happy to stick around the office; Terry is only there because he accidentally shot Derek Jeter during the playoffs, costing the Yankees and New York another World Series. Together, they (by turns, reluctantly) tackle a surprisingly intricate plot for this kind light comedy fare, involving billionaire David Ershon (Steve Coogan), his ‘bodyguard´ (Ray Stevenson), and a shady higher-up (an unbilled Anne Heche). Credit where credit is due: more thought was put into this than we could reasonably expect, and it shows.

Ultimately, this plotline is nothing special – it´s by-the-numbers, connect-the-dots stuff that we don´t really care about, and sometimes we wish we were getting more jokes and less story – but it serves one important purpose: to balance out the comedy. We´ll be watching protracted exposition for what starts to feel like too long, and then BAM – there´s the punchline to a joke we´d already forgotten about. One particular scene, involving Allen´s ex-girlfriend (played by Natalie Zea) had me laughing harder than I can remember in recent memory; not because the joke was particularly funny, but because the timing was so perfect I was caught completely off guard.

Wahlberg´s role is an outright parody of his tough-guy Departed/Shooter/We Own the Night persona, and he´s excellent here; a natural for comedy, one wonders why he doesn´t turn to it more often (also see: the underseen and underappreciated I Heart Huckabees.) Ferrell underplays his role effectively, making his violent, irreverent outbursts all the more jarring (and funny). They´re always at each other´s throats, and make for a great team; almost as good as Jackson and Johnson, who steal the show in their limited screentime.

The rest of the supporting cast is also a lot of fun. As Allen and Terry´s superior, Michael Keaton has his best role in years – what happened to him? He still has a wonderful comic presence, and (hopefully) his roles in this and Toy Story 3 lead to a revitalization of his career. Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr. (I thought he looked familiar – yes, Damon Wayans has a 28-year-old son) are appropriate foils, though Coogan has little to work with in an exposition-heavy role. Eva Mendes plays Allen´s wife; Brooke Shields, Rosie Perez, Tracy Morgan, and Derek Jeter (who could use some work with his line delivery) appear in cameos as themselves, while an uncredited Ice-T provides narration.

Director Adam McKay is well versed in Will Ferrell comedy, having made Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, along with shorts for Saturday Night Live and the website Funny or Die; it´s a good thing Ferrell has him, because there´s been a noticeable dropoff in quality among his other recent vehicles (Land of the Lost, Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory.) The Other Guys fits right in with McKay´s previous films; it´s less consistently funny, but more accomplished overall.

***


 

The Switch
Rating:

Directed by Josh Gordon, Will Speck. Starring Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Todd Louiso, Scott Elrod, Patrick Wilson, Thomas Robinson. Written by Allan Loeb, from the short story ‘The Baster’ by Jeffrey Eugenides.

The Switch is not what you expect, and in so many ways. It´s been sold to unsuspecting audiences as a romantic comedy, but it´s neither romantic nor funny. It´s based on an outrageous short story (by Jeffrey Eugenides) called The Baster, about a woman who wants to have a child via artificial insemination, and the man who replaces her preferred sperm sample with his own, without her knowledge. I´ll let your imagination fill in where the (turkey) baster comes into play.

Despite the premise, The Switch isn´t really an adaptation of The Baster, either, though the first twenty minutes may have you thinking otherwise. In fact, a turkey baster only appears here as a nod to the short story, a throwaway gag rather than a plot device.

No, The Switch is actually an affectionate drama about Wally Mars (Jason Bateman), the man who accidentally loses his best friend´s sperm sample and, in a drunken stupor, replaces it with his own. It´s only seven years later that he realizes what he did, as he first meets and then begins to bond with his now-six-year-old son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson). The scenes between Wally and Sebastian, which make up the bulk of the film, are truly touching. The best friend, Kassie, is played by a top-billed Jennifer Aniston, but her contribution here is negligible.

Not that the producers want you to realize that: The Switch has been sold as a romantic comedy, and with a little last-minute post-production tinkering here and there, that´s what they´re gonna deliver. What we get is a real mess: an almost unwatchable opening 20 minutes, complete with unfunny, borderline-offensive jokes (a mentally disturbed homeless man shouts insults at various handicapped individuals on the street; then Wally and Kassie have laughs about him over lunch) segues into the solid drama, and then a romantic subplot is haphazardly injected into the final act.

Only problems here: Bateman and Aniston have zero chemistry (and were clearly not intended to be love interests at some point in the writing process), and almost every attempt at comedy falls on its face (though Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, in best-friend roles that are far beneath them, are occasionally amusing). The drama works here, much to my surprise, but it´s undone by everything else in this sloppily constructed film (among others, a sign of last-minute tinkering: High Fidelity´s Todd Louiso, credited as Artie in the end credits, is nowhere to be seen in the final film – though I think I glimpsed the back of his head in the first party scene.)

After 10 years on the wildly popular sitcom Friends and solid indie cred built up through films like Office Space and The Good Girl, Jennifer Aniston has gone nowhere in what should have been the peak of her career. Formula rom-com after formula rom-com have taken their toll, and worn away at what was once an especially appealing persona. The Switch is no different; bringing nothing to the role, indistinguishable from dozens of other rom-com leads, Aniston drowns under the weight of an underwritten character.

Bateman, on the other hand, has gone in the complete opposite direction: after the failed (but wonderful) sitcom Arrested Development, he´s had a string of memorable supporting roles in movies like The Kingdom, Juno, State of Play, and Up in the Air, and now finds himself on the verge of stardom. He´s The Switch´s saving grace, bringing an affectionate poignancy to a one-note role; his touching scenes with young Robinson make an otherwise disposable film worth watching.

The Switch was directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, previously known for the Will Ferrell-Jon Heder ice skating comedy Blades of Glory, and a short-lived US TV show based on the cavemen from a series of Geico advertisements. No, I wasn´t expecting much here, either. But the story of Wally and his son getting to know each other despite such outrageous circumstances really works, and belongs in a better movie.

***

Also opening: Home for Christmas (showtimes | IMDb), a holiday-themed comedy-drama from director Bent Hamer (Factotum). Screening in Norwegian/English/Serbian/French with Czech subtitles.

And: All That I Love (showtimes | IMDb), a Polish comedy-drama from director Jacek Borcuch. Screening in Polish with Czech subtitles.


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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