If Danger had a middle name, it'd be Highsmith and Danson.
Technically, that'd be two middle names, but no matter: Highsmith and Danson deal in hot lead, invest in explosives and short-trade in high adventure. They don't fight the law, they are the law, and they'll break any rule to uphold it. They drive fast cars, smooch beautiful women, talk tough to little old ladies and blow up offending buildings with little more than a match and a wad of chewing gum. They consider themselves to be New York's finest Finest, templates for a 1980s action show that'd air after the family hour.
But they don't do paperwork. That they leave to the other guys.
The other guys are, more often than not, badge-wearing pencil pushers Gamble and Hoitz. Allen Gamble's an accountant who drives a Toyota Prius. Terry Hoitz is a dead-end detective who accidentally shot Yankees superstar Derek Jeter in the leg. They're partners. They hate each other. And their names would sound horrible fronting an '80s action show.
Gamble & Hoitz. Ugh.
Then one day, Gamble—through diligent, death-defying accountant work—discovers that someone has been accumulating a number of … scaffolding violations. Yes, that's right. Someone's been working on local buildings without the appropriate permits. Gamble decides to track down the scaffold shirker and take him down, forcing his partner along for the ride.
You don't think that maybe the scaffolding caper will lead to the unearthing of a far worse crime, do you? Say, the pilfering of $32 billion? You don't think the other guys are going to finally have their day?
The fact that this film is helmed by Adam McKay and stars comedian Will Ferrell—the cinematic ruffians responsible for Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers—doesn't bode well for its positivity tally. But there actually is something of a responsible core to this otherwise crass comedy:
The Other Guys really is about the "other guys"—a position in life for which most of us, frankly, qualify. Gamble and Hoitz aren't flashy or sexy, and for much of the film, they're roundly mocked. But.
Gamble's Prius is ridiculed … but the tiny hybrid turns out to be a pretty hip crime-fighting vehicle.
Gamble's accounting duties seem as dull as dirt … but his diligent work cracks open a huge financial scam.
Hoitz would love to be a police officer in the mold of Highsmith and Danson … but he finds his true calling as a traffic cop.
So the whole film turns into a bit of a celebration of us average Joes and Janes. Gamble and Hoitz don't become good cops because they turn into Highsmith and Danson; they become good cops because they do their jobs and stay true to themselves.
Well, almost true to themselves. We learn that Gamble, while in college, turned to the Dark Side, becoming a pimp and calling himself "Gator." After he met the love of his life, he turned his back on all that (even though part of him was attracted to the lifestyle) and got the safest job possible—crunching numbers for law enforcement. He figured that the gig was so safe Gator would never be tempted to come back. It's a good lesson in self-policing—even if it doesn't manifest itself terribly well onscreen.
When two cops are killed, we overhear this at their funerals: "I only hope God allows them to take their .357s [to heaven] to keep everyone in check." During a wild night of drinking, Gamble's shown biting the wrist of another priest. Gamble's wife, Sheila, mentions that she's Catholic and her hubby's Episcopalian.
Highsmith talks about the quantities of on-the-job sex he gets to have. Danson mentions his "relationship" with Kim Kardashian. Several homeless people have apparently held an orgy in Gamble's Prius (a spent condom is found in the back), and they're constantly searching for the car to have another one.
And that's just how this movie rolls. Dirty jokes and double entendres about intercourse and virginity abound, as do references to sexual body parts. The police captain says he's raising a bisexual son. Suggestive language implies that somebody's watching some sort of cartoon porn on his laptop. Prostitution and pimping are talked about quite a lot as they relate to Gamble's past.
Hoitz makes little secret of the fact that he's infatuated with Sheila, his partner's wife. Sheila only has eyes for Gamble, though, giving him anatomically descriptive nicknames, inviting him to have sex with her and telling Hoitz that her breasts (self-described with a wide variety of adjectives) are Gamble's to do with as he pleases.
Since women are so strongly attracted to Gamble, even an old girlfriend—who's now married—tries to convince him to have sex with her. So does her husband.
Three people die after falling or jumping from high buildings. We see all of them hit the ground (or, in one case, a hot dog cart). Weapons are fired, though few folks seem to get injured. Highsmith and Danson ram a car into a tour bus, then take command of the bus to pursue their quarry. The bus eventually careens into a building after flying over the top of the criminal's car.
Folks are thrown off motorcycles. A wrecking ball mows down a minivan. A building explodes. Officers kick cars, smash computers, fire guns into ceilings, wreck water coolers, tackle and tussle with suspects, and hit people in the nose with wooden guns. Someone runs over a dead body. Several officers threaten to hurt one another. Two wrestle with each other (very quietly) during a funeral reception.
One officer, after telling the bloody tale of how he used his gun while on duty, says the story feels like "a Viagra pill with a face." Hoitz tells a joke about someone shooting a hunting partner.
Crude or Profane Language
Almost 50 s-words—not counting the expletives embedded in the background music. We also frequently hear such words as "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "d‑‑n," along with misuses of God's name (including one pairing with "d‑‑n").
Drug and Alcohol Content
Highsmith and Danson cause $12 million in damage to catch someone with a quarter-pound of marijuana. Gamble's Prius plows into a mound of cocaine.
A man dies after drinking too much gin. Gamble and Hoitz go on a massive one-night drinking binge, where we see stills of them both doing the kinds of things that turn frolicking frat parties into nasty newspaper headlines. Gamble tells Hoitz the next day that he's feeling pretty hung over, and later throws up in a trash can. We see others down wine, beer, whiskey and hard lemonade.
Other Negative Elements
In a still shot from the partners' drinking binge, we see Gamble urinating off the top of a pool table. Hoitz marvels at how one of his co-workers can use a urinal from 20 feet away. Sheila and Gamble met after Gamble got poison ivy in his anus. Crude references are made to using "dental dams" and tampons.
Hoitz scratches a number of lottery tickets. He apparently learned how to dance and play the harp to mock other boys he considered "queer." Gamble and Hoitz, somewhat cluelessly, accept a pair of bribes (though they later turn a big one down). Gamble tells Hoitz he learned some great driving techniques from playing Grand Theft Auto.
"Live for excess," a celebrity investor tells his sycophants in The Other Guys. "It's the American way."
That would make this film, in some sense, a satire of the country's supposedly unsuppressed appetites. Its guns are trained largely on financial extremes: We hear references to Nigerian bankers, corporations "too big to fail" and Ponzi schemes (all of which, the film suggests, are symptoms of greed). But even Highsmith and Danson are symptoms of excess in their own way. They're not particularly good cops. But they're flashy—just the kind of officers we see on TV and in movies all the time. So The Other Guys seems to be saying what we at Plugged In have been saying for a long, long time: The "heroes" we see on our screens may be fun to watch, but let's not use them as role models, 'cause they have no bearing on what a hero actually looks like.
Overwhelming that surprisingly cogent message, of course, are other excesses. Excesses of sexuality, of violence, of foul language. The Other Guys is an excessively crass piece of work and, as such, it undercuts its own message.
Excess, it seems, is the McKay/Ferrell way.