In this addition to the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay semi-improvised comedy collection it appears that a change of tac has been put in place. It seems that an actual plot has been stuck to, and while this will divide people, it does show that, to a certain degree at least, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Because the makers appear to be working from a script and an actual plot this time, there is a disjointed feel that doesn’t fit with what has now become norm for these kinds of films. It’s very much a hit-and-miss affair, and it is kind of a disappointment when the two best, most scene-stealing characters (played with self-mocking bravado by Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) are used purely to move on the plot. That’s right: plot development.
That said, there are some moments when the film is a downright, bust-a-gut-laughing riot. Particularly Steve Coogan, who has some of the best lines, and delivers some downright zingers in the final chase sequence.
Another stand-out moment sees the main characters getting stoned, drunk, and god knows what else, in what has to be the most effective, cleverest, and funniest use of the freeze-frame ever. And other utilizations of actual technological techniques show that there is real a talent behind the camera, instead of a man who lets the camera run in front of some funny people.
And then, there is Will Ferrell. The one man army of non-stop barmy, nonsensical hilarity. Yet this time around, he is dialled down somewhat, surrounded by a plot, and a sidekick in the form of Mark Wahlberg. In fact, it shows how things are different this time around, because whenever Ferrell pulls one of his one-liners, or shows us an odd trait, it doesn’t really gel. He is given a back-story, a wife, and he also undergoes some form of transformation in the course of the running time. Yet he is happy once again to play the tic ridden, lovable, clueless buffoon. He is given, for instance, beautiful women who inexplicably throw themselves at him. His wife, played with self-deprecating, knowing wit by Eva Mendes, is stunningly gorgeous. Wahlberg constantly reminds him of this, and he looks on obliviously. These little things provide the juxtaposition between plot and silliness, and while it is clear new things are being tried, it is not entirely pleasant.
This leads us on to the conundrum that is Mark Wahlberg. One of the weirdest actors in history, in the sense that he has never picked up the credit for many of his roles, with the exception of The Departed. He plays a straight-up comic foil for Will Ferrell, and he shines in his role. Being a sidekick, in essence, he allows for some true insight into his character, and as he plays the friendship between them both, he really does add some gravitas. Veering sharply from angry, shouty person to troubled ex-cop with a dark history of his own, he more than equals Ferrell’s wit, and you will definitely come out of this remembering Wahlberg more than anybody else (with the exception of Steve Coogan’s Dora the Explorer line, which will go down in history).
Yet the fact that we can use this much insight is a sign of how much things have changed. And while the plot actually requires attention, you would be hard-pushed to remember exactly what it is all about. There are a number of character development side plots, and these provide more meat than the main one. It does feel that the main story is there to provide some sort of bread for the butter to be spread upon. There is also a surprisingly small number twists in the story. It seems that the writers have created perfectly formed ideas for twists that would make you go, ‘ooh, I knew it all along’. Instead the ending provides just that, an ending.
All in all though, this is an interesting film, different in the sense that a plot has been added, and curious that a character equal to Ferrell upstages him. At times it works, at times it feels like a bit of a slog, and sometimes it is downright bizarre. Yet there are moments that are solely worth the price of the entrance ticket. And on this form, it will be very interesting to see what exactly the comedy duo will try and do next.
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