My Question for The Other Guys

Dear Millicent,

My big question after watching The Other Guys stems from a helpful checklist in an old Emily the Strange Address book I once had (and a qualifier that would be helpful in a cellphone address book as well): after writing in somebody’s info you marked them either “part of the posse” or “part of the problem.” I can’t decide which box this movies gets ticked.

The movie very obviously satires the machismo of the cop movie genre by loudly riffing with Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson fulfilling every cliche of buddy cop drama possible, and then centering on their opposite as the two protagonists. Instead of leather jacket wearing hotrodders, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are their own brand of screwed up guys stationed in mediocrity.  Ferrell is a gullible accountant who carries a wooden gun and enjoys making apps for his iphone. Wahlberg’s career was re-aligned when he accidentally shot Derek Jeter, losing the World Series for New York.  After the two rockstar cops meet the kind of mortality the genre always allows them to evade, these two try to step up and take their place.

And it’s funny to see the basic Bad Boys formula get poked at, and almost skewered. It’s funny to see Will Ferrell say things like “I think I got so drunk last night I ate a tube of toothpaste thinking it was astronaut food.”  These cops drive a Prius, their captain has a second job at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and there is actual paperwork to do and the movie explains who does it.

At first glance, the poking isn’t sharp enough to cut or skewer.  The movie wobbles between joke and these guys actually becoming the trite stereotype the movie originally insisted on removing.  There is an unwieldy critique of white collar crime and the government bailout system riding underneath the plot (and fully installed in the credits–all interesting, but distracting).  By the end, they seem like nicer versions of Jackson and Johnson, their arc stalled out midway, having jettisoned the satire for plot completion.

And, my feminist hackles got all hackled up early on…at which point I sat in the theater with my lips pursed and thought “does my feminism blind me from seeing the larger whole? Can I now not appreciate something because it fails on one level that happens to be particularly important to me? Is this why feminists are so often accused of being humorless?” To which I then thought, “I’d prefer my humor to not be working against my general beliefs, and if that makes me a stalwart, then so be it.”  To which I then thought, “I really wish there were more women in power with these movies not to make things more feminine, but to just shed some goddamn light on how wack all this is.” To which I then thought of Louis C.K. saying in a standup routine, “It is great to be a white man in America. Really, I would reup every time!”  And then I started paying attention again to the movie.

Here were my initial balks:

  • To show his dislike of Ferrell’s character, Wahlberg says “even the sound of his piss is feminine.”
  • To show his dislike of Ferrell’s Prius, Wahlberg says “it feels like I am actually in a vagina.”
  • The other cops agree: to deride the Prius, they say things like “it looks like a tampon on wheels.” There are several of these, all comparing the Prius as a particularly female car, and thus an obvious insult.
  • Ferrell is a total asshole to his wife, at one point verging on abusive, and she coddles him accordingly.
  • Wahlberg woos a woman by stalking her, which she first describes as creepy, but then eventually marries him.
  • There are four women in the movie: hot wife, sweet girlfriend, shrewish ex, Anne Heche.
  • Ferrell has a history as a pimp, which he learns to embrace and accept, which makes him a better man.

I left the movie, thinking it was okay as a gesture of comedy, but disappointed by the sexism, and the fact that if this was indeed made for adolescent boys, then Priuses had become untouchable, and the idea that feminine=bad (and funny!) had been reinforced.

But, then I thought, maybe everything in the movie had been an attempt, perhaps unsuccessfully, to prod the original stereotype. Maybe even down to the sexism, it was mocking the ridiculous masculinity of the cop genre.

As counterpoint to my original balks (a rebalking!):

  • Wahlberg’s hatred of his partner’s “weakness” is overplayed to show the fear of femininity in cop movie culture
  • The bro rant against the Prius is overplayed to emphasize the above, and to highlight the general nonsensical misogyny of the genre
  • Eva Mendes’ role is a play on how often ugly cops have gorgeous wives they mistreat, and these wives often conveniently announce a pregnancy to raise the stakes, as well as always exist to offer the downtrodden male cop succor and sex (and dinner).
  • Wahlberg’s stalking is a direct reference to Carlito’s Way, where Carlito does indeed stalk Penelope Anne Miller in her ballet class, which is portrayed as romantic.
  • There aren’t any women besides wives, girlfriend’s, and a hooker or two in cop movies.
  • Ferrell’s pimp past as a take on the dark side the cops are given to show their understanding of the law, and the animal within.

And so, instead of being irritatingly blind and glib, the movie becomes savvy, part of the posse, leaning towards a feminist critique of masculinity. And, this might have actually been a key theme in the original script.  If it was in there, the movie was re-shaped so unevenly by its final product,  this theme is smothered enough to almost become invisible, and certainly for the 14-year-olds out there watching, non-existent.

Confusingly, Entertainment Weekly reviewed the movie as  “a comedy of manhood for the age of emasculation.”  Emasculation here seems like the wrong word, and leans towards the old school of offense.  Perhaps what it tried to be was a comedy of manhood for the age of men as real people.  Now, if the ladies (and the poor Prius) could get the same service.

4 Responses to My Question for The Other Guys

  1. zunguzungu says:

    Well, to respond to only a very small aspect of this post, it is worth noting that the Prius survives enough artillery and smashage to cripple a fleet of decepticons, and continues driving unscathed.

    To respond to the larger, it occurs to me that being able to speak to both dumb misogynists and smart critical feminists is a nice trick for a film like this one — that only wants your ticket money — to pull off. I feel like a lot of Hollywood films are that way; fully willing to feed into its audience’s hatreds while at the same time, carefully building a blast shield of irony to prevent it from seeming as loathsome as it *also* is. Because really, your balks and re-balkings are both completely right *and* mutually exclusive. It can’t be both, yet it is!

    • Carla Fran says:

      ZZ and M,
      That Prius is a brave little chariot. I too wanted them to come around at the end, and make more than one mileage joke (also think the Prius would make for an excellent police car because of it’s ability to run silently–it could provide some excellent stealth for sneaking up on criminals).
      ZZ, I’m interested in other examples where this irony shield is used. Tarantino? Apatow?

  2. Millicent says:

    This is so great. I had the same questions and the same disappointment by the end, when the plot ended swiftly by reverting to the original cop script in a way that actually makes zero plot sense. (For instance, they leave the millionaire unguarded all night, but he mysteriously remains in their power).

    I fell for the trick when it started—I was bored and disgusted by the initial shenanigans by The Rock and Samuel Jackson, and was getting ready to sit through two hours of idiocy. Then they mentioned the cost of the supercop hijinks vs. what the criminals stole. My ears perked up. And then! Theirs were two of the funniest deaths I’ve ever seen in film.

    To your rebuttals to the antifeminist tropes that show up early, I’d add that the “girliness” of the Prius is undercut by the fact that it turns out to be one badass motherfucking machine…. all shot up by the end and still running like a dream. I really wanted them to punch up the joke by saying it did all that on one tank of gas.

    The Eva Mendes thing startled me too… I think they were trying to undercut too many stereotypes at once and got tangled?

    Trope 1: Geeky pencil-pushers who don’t cuss don’t get hot girls. Or any girls. Hot girls like The Rock.

    Trope 2: Geeky pencil-pushers treat women really really well and are worshipful and grateful.

    Trope 3: Geeky Prius-owners are consumed with self-hatred want badly to be someone, anyone, else.

    The fact that Will Ferrell *doesn’t* want to change was what made his character great. The pimp backstory undercut that. As you say, it was incredibly tired and revealed him to be “hard” at some level, but even if it’s riffing on tropes of cops with criminal histories, Ferrell is exactly the wrong vehicle for that. He’s never been the routine cop, so assigning that backstory to him makes no sense. It would have been a better movie if it had insisted on his inertia. Should have let him remain exactly what he was.

    The fight with the wife made no sense, and neither did the reconciliation. By then, the movie had devolved into a disjointed sketch comedy. The idea that he’s some sort of ripoff of Jim Carrey in Me, Myself and Irene is both derivative and a lot less clever than the guiding premise: what of the guys who do the paperwork?

    I agree with you that the original concept must have been smarter than the eventual execution partly because of the end credits, which showed statistic after statistic on the rise and corruption of corporations, and which revealed a serious intent to tell truth to power.

    Whether that extends to feminism I don’t know… it’s always hard to tell whether the gents’ liberalness stretches that far. Whenever liberal comedies feel they’re being too cautious, misogyny is usually the easy concession to political incorrectness.

    Other random thoughts: I loved how cheerful Michael Keaton was a Bed, Bath, and Beyond—he had his customer service personality on, which revealed the extent to which his Police Chief schtick was a complete act. I didn’t like Mark Wahlberg’s character, whose decision to go rogue at the end needed a backstory to justify it. That turn to satisfied traffic cop was totally unexplained.

    I left thinking it had some really clever parts, but spun badly out of control and ended up being a big hot mess.

    Fondly,
    M

  3. Pingback: A Thousand Ways to be Pissed Off: The Green Hornet « Millicent and Carla Fran

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