Director: Adam McKay (Step Brothers, Anchorman)
Screenwriter: Adam McKay (Step Brothers), Chris Henchy (Land of the Lost (2009))
Cast: Will Ferrell (Step Brothers, Blades of Glory), Mark Wahlberg (The Lovely Bones), Steve Coogan (Hamlet 2), Michael Keaton (Toy Story 3)
Length: 1h 37m
Synopsis: Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) are New York City detectives who are stuck in the proverbial daily grind. Hoitz is always itching to escape the office and do some hardcore investigating, while Gamble is perfectly content with doing endless paperwork. Both partners, however, envy co-detectives Highsmith (Jackson) and Danson (Johnson), who continually create headlines and make the detective life look glamorous and movie-like. These two would-be celebrities end up meeting their maker sooner rather than later, though, which inspires Hoitz and Gamble to take more initiative and be more ambitious with their investigations. This newfound attitude steers them towards a possible grand-scale white collar crime not dissimilar to the Bernie Madoff fiasco, but because of a series of mishaps their Captain (Keaton) and even the District Attorney step in and order them to back off. Despite this order Hoitz and Gamble are unable to let go of the case, and wont stop until they’ve got their man.
Analysis: Like this film’s trailer suggests, its brand of humor is based quite largely on coincidental circumstance and irony. However, what it doesn’t try to be – despite what the premise implies – is a parody of the buddy cop action subgenre. The tone is far from serious, but it isn’t really looking to make fun of itself or mock its own existence. That would imply that the movie is claiming to be an example of the same generic, formula-spawned products that it supposedly judges. This is not the case. What director Adam McKay and fellow writer Chris Henchy are ostensibly trying to do is use the age-old buddy cop movie blueprint to say something about how the perception of law enforcement (from the everyman’s point of view) ought to change from admiring and revering only the cops who catch bank robbers, drug dealers, and smugglers (a la the typical movie cop) to both this kind and the type that cracks cases where all the evidence is found on paper and computer files.
Gamble and Hoitz, while admirers of the exciting representation of law enforcement found on Starsky and Hutch shows and in Lethal Weapon movies, do not possess the superhuman instinct or physical/vehicular prowess that the characters in those depictions demonstrate. Their ordinariness is showcased on multiple occasions, such as when being blown away by the shockwave of an exploding building and complaining about how painful the experience is (meanwhile in most other movies the cops stand right back up with hardly a scratch on them), or failing to talk down a suicide jumper (i.e. lacking dependable interpersonal skills and failing to handle stressful situations). This overall lack of exceptional ability defines their roles on the side of law and order, with each ultimately representing due diligence and devotion to obligation. In any profession these qualities are vital and expected, yet (particularly with law enforcement) because the expectation is there that they exist in everyone by default they are arguably unappreciated when they are the main reason that disaster is avoided. Likewise, and perhaps what the film is trying to convey, it is when due diligence and a devotion to obligation are lacking that the biggest debacles happen (such as multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes).
It should be said that while Gamble and Hoitz possess the aforementioned good qualities, they are hardly sterling examples of what cops ought to aspire to be. But that the film is a comedy where their traits contrast with more glorified officers and are exposed using hyperbole and excess, we can’t very well expect them to be. Their function is to point out the essentiality of their strengths. They may be boring strengths, but they are admirable nonetheless because of how hard they are to maintain. For all of these reasons it is clear that the movie is about paying tribute to those individuals whose job it is to protect us from the conmen, swindlers and frauds. It could very well be proposing a change in the times for American audiences specifically, being that recent events have shown that not all significant crimes involve heists, murder, or car chases. On a related note, it might be interesting to also notice how the interplay between Gamble and Hoitz progresses. Because the one is a paper pusher and the other is a would-be “normal” detective, their initial friction and eventual camaraderie could be interpreted as a hopeful wish that the type of law and order that the former provides and the latter desires to provide will become both harmonious and equally valued.
Note: There is a short clip following the credits.