Is 'Other Guys' Will Ferrell's bitter attack on Wall Street crony capitalism?
Silly me. Judging from the trailers, I thought Will Ferrell's new film, "The Other Guys," was a buddy comedy set in the world of loose-cannon cops, with Mark Wahlberg as the tightly wrapped tough guy ("I'm a peacock -- you've gotta let me FLY!") and Ferrell as the sad-sack forensic accountant who's always the butt of office gags. At least that's the way most film critics have viewed the movie, which, as the Orlando Sentinel's Roger Moore described it, is "a Ponzi scheme of a comedy, a buddy action picture cluttered with funny characters and hilarious moments."
But apparently America's dim-bulb film critics, who have, so far, given the film a generous 78 Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, have missed the real message of the movie. According to New York Post film critic Kyle Smith, whose blog offers a provocative conservative slant on pop culture affairs, "Other Guys" is really a liberal broadside against Wall Street. Noting that Ferrell and his writing partner (and "Other Guys" director Adam McKay) made a satirical short earlier this year that painted insurance company executives as the bad guys in the healthcare debate, Smith believes that they've ruined their Hollywood comedy by turning it into an attack on Wall Street crony capitalism.
He argues that the investment banker character British comic Steve Coogan plays in the film is actually a symbol of "Evil Capitalism." As he writes on his blog:
"The Coogan character not only isn’t funny, but he becomes a bulletin board for Ferrell and McKay to post all of their bitter, half-understood notions about What’s Wrong With Wall Street. Like many idiots in the popular press, they are convinced that the Bernie Madoff scandal is somehow indicative of the way modern Wall Street crony capitalism works (when in fact it was a simple Ponzi scheme that could have happened anytime and has been happening for a century -- but is relatively rare simply because of the inevitability of getting caught). The more the movie yammers on about pension schemes and misappropriated funds, the more you check your watch. I’m not really in the school that says comedians shouldn’t be political; they can if they want. ... [But] 'The Other Guys' can’t figure out any interesting way to mix its outrage with laughs. Instead it is (for long stretches in the second half) simply a screechy, speechy, huffing, puffing bore."
This, of course, is the problem with conservative critics' view of modern-day pop culture. They are so obsessed with what they see as liberal bias all around them that they can't take any enjoyment in entertainment created by someone with undisguised liberal views, whether its Ferrell, Sean Penn, Oliver Stone or, now that he's become an outspoken environmentalist, James Cameron. If I had a dollar for every e-mail I've gotten from a grumpy conservative, swearing that they're boycotting Sean Penn movies because he's cozied up with Hugo Chavez, I'd be living in Tahiti by now.
In his post, Smith says it is OK with him to use Wall Street as a comedy target, he just thinks Ferrell's gags have too much venom and outrage in them. But outrage is always in the eye of the beholder. And I'd argue that some of our best comedies, the ones that have lasted, are the comedies that do have a barbed edge to them. It's why Ernst Lubitsch's "To Be or Not To Be" is still eminently watchable today, while "Hogan's Heroes" collects dust on the shelf. The TV comedy goes for the easy laugh while Lubitsch's film packs a vicious satiric punch. If Ferrell wants to give some Wall Street guys a nasty poke in the eye, I say have at 'em.
Photo: Will Ferrell, left, and Mark Wahlberg in the new comedy "The Other Guys." Credit: Macall Polay / Columbia Pictures