No doubt you’ve read about it if you haven’t seen it. The Other Guys, the latest collaboration between masters of the sophomoric Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, concludes with an animated chart-and-graph sequence over its end credits detailing the inner workings of Ponzi schemes, the exponential disparity between the wages of corporate CEOs and their average worker, and the rather comical eventual release date of currently imprisoned white-collar criminal Bernie Madoff.
It seems startling at first, for one of the most hilariously dumb comedies of the summer (I certainly don’t mean this as an insult, as true silliness is hard to come by and McKay/Ferrell routinely pull it off masterfully) to conclude with something of a visual lecture. It’s confounding for a film that asks the bare minimum of its viewer to conclude with what seems to be a message built from populist outrage, a message for which there seemed, on the surface, little if any buildup toward.
The best course of action – for most critics, anyway – has been to read and enjoy The Other Guys wholly separate from its end credits (films, after all, are often misread as ending before their credits; we’re conditioned not to any pay attention to them). I find this reading of The Other Guys too selective, and its end credits – as didactic and ill-placed as they may seem at first to be – paint a rather different film in hindsight to the one we think we have been seeing.Check out the credits sequence:
The Other Guys begins as the broadest of parodies, situating itself as a take-off on one of the most well-worn of genres: the buddy cop movie (hell, it’s not even the first parody of this type released by a studio this year), situating its action-hero archetypes (rogue cops played by The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson) in direct antithesis to…well, it’s right there in the title (Ferrell’s number-cruncher and Mark Wahlberg’s stocky-by-comparison, Pesci-esque ball of pre-adolescent rage). The archetypes are so familiar that direct reference to any specific film within this parody is hardly necessary. The generic assumptions are there, and as The Other Guys’ just-as-telling beginning credit sequence exhibits, action-hero renegade cop films are ones which have little correspondence to logic, social reality, and even contemporary cinema itself (which would explain why parodies of the genre are more evident these days than sincere iterations of the genre itself). Parody and broad comedy, then, seem at first directly oppositional to the landscape of satire in the McKay/Ferrell aesthetic, but in its attempts at subversive communication The Other Guys is more Patton than Dr. Strangelove, a type of film that permits simultaneous oppositional readings without contradiction within either camp of interpretation.
The Other Guys’ satire comes in this case through genre parody rather than an overt thematic critique of social reality, and the major catalyst for its meaning-making is through its play with traditional masculinity in the buddy cop film. Typically, parody (or, at least, good parody) in film implies a love for the category of movies being lampooned – that is, there’s an affection for the universal familiarities being pointed out, an ode to the resilience of clichés that continue to exist because of the fact that they work time and again. And there are certainly hints of that brand of affection in the first act of The Other Guys (McKay seems to be having a great deal of fun shooting those preposterous action set pieces), but within that affection is an exhibition of how antiquated this brand of action hero is. While Detectives Highsmith (Jackson) and Danson (The Rock) may be beloved in their department for their dick-measuring brand of heroism, this uber-masculinity shows holes early on, from their decimation of city blocks for only a few thousand dollars in drug money to their sudden death from a ridiculous and nonsensical stunt (Highsmith and Danson seem to be self-consciously operating on a logic in which they actively seek to emulate the very action heroes the film is lampooning, and the extent of this affection are realized when their hubris prevents them from acknowledging the limits of mortality and the laws of physics).
While others from the patrol gain a great deal of mileage out of schoolyard jokes regarding Det. Allen Gamble’s (Ferrell) areas of apparent lacking in this masculine ideal, he ultimately proves to be the only character who possesses the intellect and understanding capable of tackling something resembling a relevant and contemporary major crime. While Highsmith and Danson died an early death battling interchangeable, anonymous, gun-wielding, car-chasing drug runners (the type of which quite literally only exist in action movies), their impetuous action-hero logic is totally incapable of addressing 21st century concerns like white-collar crime.
As a marker for this transition and lack of understanding, Wahlberg’s Det. Hoitz acts as the film’s dumbfounded persistent questioner, continually quizzing Gamble as to where the drug money is when the crime committed has absolutely nothing to do with that antiquated TV-brand of inciting police drama – the real criminal war on the streets, The Other Guys proposes, is happening on Wall Street. The presence of Stallone as a renegade police Lieutenant in a Cobra (1986) poster adorning the wall of Hoitz’s apartment further illuminates how irrelevant this aggressively masculine past ideal for the action hero cop has become in a world where it is the functionary, not the muscle, that is the only one capable of bringing corporate malfeasance to justice. (The Other Guys lovingly pays tribute to the police action hero while pointing out how ludicrous and antiquated he is, while the upcoming Stallone-starrer The Expendables desperately hangs on to the nostalgic remnants of this ideal without the shrewdness necessary to put its tongue in its cheek. It is only the ironic action star, for better or worse, that contains truth in today’s mainstream cinema.)
The Other Guys is full of aside jabs that work alongside this cultural criticism, from Hoitz’s misunderstanding of the function (or, rather, lack of function) of the Federal Reserve to a slew of brilliant throwaway jokes that work as effectively as satire as they do as silly, broad humor (an early joke pointing out the death of great journalism alongside the rise of TMZ, Damon Wayans, Jr. telling a classroom of children that the best way to avoid getting arrested is to “try your hardest to not be as African-American or Latino as possible”). Subversive humor mixed alongside with well-honed dumb jokes is, at least in retrospect, par for the course for many aspects of the politically active and openly left-leaning McKay, who gave us one of the greatest go-fuck-yourselves moments in big studio filmmaking when he delivered a comedy for the NASCAR crowd that culminated in a man-on-man kiss (with a Frenchman, no less) in the underappreciated Talladega Nights. But there are certainly limits to this approach. Broad comedy, especially when manifested within even broader parody, asks us to turn our brains off, while satire doesn’t, so The Other Guys admittedly caught me off guard towards the end when I realized I should’ve been paying attention all along to actually understand what David Ershon’s (Steve Coogan) crime actually was, instead of passively waiting for each laugh. It’s this tension between cultivating a passive or active viewer that makes The Other Guys’ brand of satire both successful (being enjoyable both as a broad comedy while possessing satirical undertones) and yet startlingly out-of-place (the misguided idea that dumb comedy can’t or shouldn’t address relevant concerns, which makes the end credits – awkwardly executed or not – feel somehow like it overstepped its bounds).
But there’s something telling in how very uncinematic Ershon’s crime comes across in the film; after all, crimes in corporate bureaucracy and crimes committed through documents are hardly visually interesting. The complications of corporate and white-collar crime can’t fit the narrative formulas of Hollywood genre films (car chases over drugs, while unrealistic and irrelevant, lend themselves better to cinematic storytelling than topical crime, which is why the giant shootout at the police pension office meeting is a self-consciously silly, bizarre, and uneven hybrid of genre and reality). The layman’s confusion over the bank crises or any of the many recent crimes by CEOs within everyday news media certainly carries over to any attempt to portray similar crime on film, so the fact that characters within The Other Guys itself are confused over the crime committed in the film is ultimately rather telling and appropriate with regards to our regular inability to interpret contemporary crime through media. Perhaps absurd comedy is the only place where narratives of white-collar crime can believably take place.
While the charts and graphs at the end of The Other Guys may initially feel tacked-on, unappealing, or awkward, they provide an opportunity for an alternative retrospective reading of the film that the viewer may choose to accept or reject, and for me there’s something just a little bit gleeful in the fact that the money McKay and Ferrell make talks enough for them to get away with showing these statistics at the end of a tentpole summer comedy financed by a major studio (Columbia) which is owned by a major corporation (Sony) whose executives are no doubt relevant to certain data points of disparity exhibited in the sequence.
Humor is almost never escapist, even when it seems to be. It’s how we make sense of our world, for the absurdities of comedy often illuminate how absurd our lived reality is. Humor can often be the most dangerous or incisive form of communication, particularly because of its ability to disguise itself as harmless and light. And as mega-corporations (and no, people, The Other Guys isn’t anti-capitalist, for that simplistic labeling would assume that the ability to compete and foster social mobility hindered by corporate monopolization is somehow a pro-capitalist ideal – to criticize unchecked power is not to criticize an entire economic philosophy) use formulas of all types to attract consumers, it’s no small victory that The Other Guys uses the formula of genre to take a small (and hilarious) bite back.