Let's just be clear: The Other Guys is a truly bad movie. It's poorly written, terribly paced, badly acted, and just a hot mess. Despite a ridiculously stuffed cast, I don't think there is a single memorable or likeable performance – possibly Michael Keaton's Captain, but even that is a stretch. So that's my review: god awful, don't bother.
But what interests me is how such a misogynistic pile of garbage can get made in the first place, and for that, I have a theory. I think our tale begins in some elite, private high school in California, where a group of teenagers have formed an improv or comedy writing group. They likely perform to adoring parents once or twice a year at whatever fundraising galas the school needs, and, at one of these, a sketch mocking 80s/90s buddy-cop films elicits some heartfelt laughter. Who knows if that original sketch was actually funny, or if certain parents felt the need to show support, or maybe it was just an otherwise particularly dull evening, making even mediocrity seem exciting in the moment. At any rate, one member of the cast (or possibly several, but my money is on just one) thinks they've hit on a winner. They go home and bash out a full-on parody, which, in their mind, cleverly skewers all of the egotistical pomp of the genre.
Unfortunately for them, they are but a teenager, and lack the experience to know that this has all been done before. Their half-baked witticisms are, at best, unoriginal, at worst straight-up plagiarism. This isn't their fault. Anyone with any kind of creative flair or bent has done the exact same thing at their age and will later go on to cringe at their sincere idiocy when they inevitably rediscover it whilst clearing out an attic or old bedroom in their late 20s. The problem is, this kid is rich. Perhaps their parents are already deeply connected to the Hollywood machine; perhaps they're merely able to make some tactical donations to gain privileged meetings. Either way, when the apple of their eye says that all they truly want for Christmas, or their birthday, or for getting a good grade in Maths, or whatever, all they want is for their script to become the next box office hit, well, those parents get to it.
Maybe they are, in fact, the CEOs of some poor production company, but I think it's more likely that they just buy their way into a few fancy dinners with relevant authority figures and start pitching their kid's script. I imagine the first few studios take one look and firmly, yet politely, turn them down. They probably cite an overextended schedule or an upcoming project which means that they can't possibly devote the time that such a movie would need; whatever lie is needed to ensure the golden goose doesn't leave angry, but that they don't find themselves with an albatross hung about their necks.
Ah, but this is Hollywood. Somewhere out there, a desperate CEO is realising that their latest "sure thing" was a commercial disaster and the creditors are circling. They hear about some well-meaning parents with bottomless pockets and arrange a meeting. I doubt they even glance at the script, being too distracted by the truckload of cash in the parking lot outside. But our young SNL guest-writer-in-the-making gets their wish fulfilled: their script has been greenlit!
There are a couple of issues, however. First, some poor middle manager is made to read the script and realises that it's a little underbaked, at best. A meeting is called, and they agree that this is fixable with ✨star power✨, so the CEO pops back on the phone to our favourite overachiever and spins some story about how they think Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Will Ferrell would be a perfect fit. This obviously gets the kid excited, but there's a catch. The initial financial backing just isn't quite there. They really want the kid's film to be a success, oh what to do! Of course, egged on by an over-excited and starry-eyed child, the parents fall for this madness, and stump up the extra cash – more than enough for a couple of A-listers to agree to come in and shoot for a handful of days. With their names on the cast sheet, roping in some recognisable (but significantly cheaper) actors becomes much easier, particularly those looking to transition from TV to film. Are they interested in working with The Rock! And Will Ferrell! And Sam Jackson! Of course they are! And so the studio gets all they need: enough famous faces and explosions to fill a trailer and get butts in seats for the opening weekend, before the reviews can work their magic.
That just leaves problem number two: the NYPD. See, if a film wants to portray an organisation like the US Army or a specific police force, they have to get permission first. Particularly if they want to set their film about New York cops in actual New York, where police cooperation will be paramount to gaining filming rights, closing streets, and generally making anything happen. So the studio reaches out to the NYPD, pays whatever "fee" (*cough* bribe *cough*) is currently in favour, and receives a police liaison in return. After all, the NYPD are aware that branding is important, and they can't have films made about them that do anything but cast them in a favourable light.
My take is that the liaison in question was bumped down from actual cop work after a decade or so of complaints and internal investigations; I doubt they're genuinely evil, but they truly buy into the whole "hero cop" image and think of themselves as a bit of a wild card, a rebel. In reality, they're a bigoted douchebag with an overinflated ego, but cops being cops, and unions being unions, it's easier to demote them to a desk job than actually fire them or make them face consequences, so here they are, reviewing a Hollywood script.
Of course, they are pissed about this. They want to be prowling the mean streets, popping their gun off at perps, and living up to their twisted concept of a bad-ass 😎 But instead of that, they're reviewing some privileged high school talent contest winner's teenage Magnum opus. And most infuriatingly of all, the script gets everything wrong! The cops are boring and weak! What's all this nonsense about pratfalls and overly emotional garbage? Nah, this will not stand! So they ring up the studio and say they need to "revise the inaccuracies" in the script. Perhaps they expect some pushback, but no one at the studio actually cares, so instead they get carte blanche and get stuck into their "editorial" work.
They misidentify the poorly written send-up of police brutality and toxic masculinity as positive traits, and dial them up to 11. Perhaps they even self-insert themselves a little, introducing their own power fantasies and frustration at "the man" that just doesn't understand what "real police work is all about" into the story. They make the Captain a weak-kneed lib (inadvertently turning him into the only partially likeable or interesting character) and let their heroes yell at him a whole bunch. The higher-ups are all corrupt and in the pockets of wealthy business people, and the judiciary only serves to get in the way of actual police work. I imagine the bad guy was originally rewritten to be a Jewish character, but luckily someone caught that early enough and flipped it around to that other Hollywood staple of villainy: a Brit 😨
The biggest hit job here is Mark Wahlberg's completely hollowed-out character: a beaten-down cop that only ever does the "right thing" but never gets any credit (mainly because they aren't doing the right thing, but are too self-obsessed to realise that). I imagine this was originally written more tongue-in-cheek, but became a stand-in for the liaison's own perceived injustices. That would explain the whole perverse and twisted "romance" subplot with his ex-girlfriend, which I have to assume is further projection, hence the utterly unrealistic scene where they patch things up just because. We're never shown what Wahlberg says or does to win over this obvious victim of a deeply toxic relationship with strong undertones of domestic abuse, because whoever was building their own insecurities into the script doesn't actually know how that would go. They just want the girl back; they don't want to try and understand why they left, or how to fix any part of their broken relationship, because they clearly don't regard women as actual, functional, human beings.
This is also when the worst of the flaming sexism and bigotry gets injected into the script. I'm sure there was plenty of this anyway – after all, if you're going to parody buddy-cop films, even a teenager understands that you need to openly mock how they treated women. But The Other Guys seems to miss the point that any sexism is meant to be double-edged, more about mocking the men who say or think those things, and instead just openly endorses bigotry throughout. The objectification of women is often used a positive character trait and even the supposedly "good" characters frequently belittle each other for any kind of "unmanly" behaviour. And then there's the whole "nerdy cop was a pimp in college" weirdness, which possibly attempts to portray sex workers as at least in control of their own life choices, but comes across as arguing that all women are just out to exploit the sexual desires of men for their own disturbing gains and can neither be trusted nor afforded any semblance of self-autonomy outside of deciding how to sleep around.
But who cares, the studio has their money and their too-big-to-fail cast, the NYPD have given the thumbs up, and now production is wrapped. But the final product has zero self-awareness, glorifies every negative aspect of police abuse and holds up problematic stereotypes as ideals, whilst lacking any likeable characters. Walhberg is the human personification of toxic masculinity, and even Ferrell's nerdy loser is abusive towards his wife, degrading towards every other woman that they come across, and lacks any kind of redeeming quality. Plus, the film is trying to release into an America increasingly rocked by police-led violence and a growing understanding around the systemic issues that the police help to enforce, and here you have your main character shoot a black athlete just doing their job at their place of work because he chooses to pull the trigger first and ask questions later, when there is absolutely no reason to think his life, or the life of anyone around him, is in any way in danger. And that's not even openly discussed. Sure, he gets bumped down several layers in the NYPD, but he still has a well-paying job, with an excellent pension, and the only reason that he faces any consequences at all is that this black man happens to be a New York Knicks star player and it costs the team a game. Not the fact that a cop just shot an innocent civilian for no reason? No, the sports fans are mad 🤦♂️
Look, 2010 was a different era in many ways, but still: what the actual hell‽ And I imagine that was the reaction of a large percentage of liberal, Californian test audiences, forcing a number of reshoots and additional edits which only further confused the plot, diluted any underlying message, and wound up with some of the clunkiest dialogue cuts I've seen outside of YouTube.
So now they have a movie. It's a terrible movie, with a terrible message and zero redeeming qualities, but it does exist. And so we return to where we started: the parents and their kid, who is now in university. They are almost certainly producers, thanks to being the main "writer" and significant financial backers of the film, so they get to sign off on it before it can officially be released. Everyone sits down and painfully watches through a steaming pile of awfulness and, probably, applauds or something at the end, because no one really cares. This is all just ego-stroking, and at the end of the day, there's The Rock saying the lines that their Lil' Slugger wrote, oh aren't we all so proud. Except the kid isn't. Oh, they're still not self-aware or worldly enough to recognise the deep flaws in the movie, but they're taking Econ 101 and recently got stoned with their new Harvard mates and watched The Big Short, and man, they can just see how they were onto something. A movie about nobody cops bringing down a corrupt billionaire engaging in some kind of (never explicitly mentioned) Ponzi scheme‽ How clever is that! What a strong indictment about the way wealth works in the Western world! But the message has been lost in the gunshots and explosions and steaming sexism. We need to recut the film! Steve Coogan needs to really hammer home his corruption! Down with the 1%! (I imagine the kid chants at this point)
The adults in the room get a bit nervous. The studio politely explains how much money that would cost, and reinforces how "great" the film already is. The parents would like to see some return on their "investment" and are also a little concerned that their child is unaware that they are the 1%. Oh, but they'll throw a tantrum if it isn't changed? Okay, we'll recut a couple of scenes and introduce some billionaire woman who we can film in the stock exchange and then have the US government bailout, because "too big to fail" is a buzzword the kid just rattled off. We'll make it all vague and uninteresting enough that it never really says anything, but it appeases the kid. Oh, and what about the credits? We were just going to run white text on black, but I guess we can get some poor intern to quickly animate a bunch of stats about the 2008 recession and Bernie Madoff or something. It will have no context within the actual film and we'll give them no direction on whether the result should be for or against capitalist exploitation, so the audience can't really pull any meaning from it, but it'll look fancy and at least appear a bit like The Big Short. Will that work? It will? Great! Roll out the red carpet, pop the champagne, pats on the back all around.