An arresting satirical hit
Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures, Mark Wahlberg stars as Detective Terry Hoitz and Will Ferrell stars as Detective Allen Gamble in "The Other Guys." Macall Polay

Rated: PG-13. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. 3 stars.

Who better to turn the buddy-cop genre on its head than crafty comedic buddies Will Ferrell and Adam McKay? Together, they've carved a path in the film industry that other funny farmers are tripping over themselves to replicate. Their combined irreverence with a dash of cutesiness (along with an abundance of quotable moments) have cemented "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights" into our lexicon.

After wallowing in the swamp of half-baked family flicks, Ferrell is back at the top of his game with "The Other Guys." Here, he partners with good sport Mark Wahlberg, who ends up mocking his own past work in such tough-guy sneer-fests as "Max Payne" and "We Own the Night."

Ferrell is Allen Gamble, a straight-laced desk jockey for the New York Police Department who admires "real" cops from afar but is content with crunching numbers instead of criminals' skulls. Wahlberg is Terry Hoitz, the irritable laughing stock of the team, benched from the important cases for accidentally firing upon Yankee Derek Jeter. Unlike Allen, he's thirsting to get back on the beat, and he gets in his reluctant partner's face for what he deems as cowardice. (There's a destined-to-be-classic exchange early on between the two about the superiority of lions and tuna. Just try not to laugh. It looked hard enough for Wahlberg to suppress his smile.)

This mismatched duo finally gets its chance to shine when two super cops (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson in Red Bull rages) die on the job. With Allen's analytical skills and Terry's tenacity, they begin to track an economical swindle that would make Bernie Madoff giddy. They become embroiled in the kidnapping of business magnate David Ershon (Steve Coogan) and find themselves battling some big-time foes. All while battling with each other, especially over control of the patrol car radio. (Allen gets amped up with Little River Band and the Mamas & the Papas, a nice detour from the throbbing techno and metal favored by this movie genre.)

Popping in as their gruff captain is the invaluable Michael Keaton, who moonlights as a manager for Bed Bath & Beyond. Appropriate he'd play Ferrell's mentor, as Keaton was the impish big-screen torchbearer in the late '80s and '90s. And not to be forgotten is Wahlberg's "We Own the Night" co-star Eva Mendes, who plays Allen's "plain" wife, Dr. Sheila. Buxom, intelligent and loyal, Sheila is a bright feminine presence in this boys-club bash. Score another one for McKay, who's written some of the wittiest women's roles in recent memory.

For satire, "The Other Guys" still does action awesomely. There's no shortage of stunts and explosions here, albeit ones with a lot of clowning around involved. Allen's Prius becomes a protagonist itself for all the turmoil it's put through. Wahlberg gets his adrenaline fix, all while holding his own comedically.

Ferrell is a total riot, unleashing his inner dope at all the opportune times. (There's also another secret Allen's harboring, and the revelation is vintage Ferrell/McKay hilarity.) One wonders just how long he can keep at the tasteful buffoonery, but for now, it's in full bloom. Only someone like him can turn the continuous Wall Street disaster into something we can laugh at.

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