Ten years ago, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg teamed up as an unlikely duo for a buddy-cop flick called The Other Guys. This was arguably at the top of Ferrell's powers and an interesting move for Wahlberg, as comedy wasn't something he was known for at the time. Not only that, but Adam McKay, also at the height of his comedic powers, was behind the camera, reuniting with Ferrell. The two had previously collaborated on hits like Anchorman and Step Brothers. It was reasonably well-liked at the time and remains a sometimes-discussed entry in each respective star's catalog. But ten years later, I'm here to tell you that, in the eyes of one movie lover, The Other Guys was a huge success. In that, it contains a joke that very nearly broke me and remains, to this day, one of the funniest things I have ever personally encountered in cinema.
I tend not to write things this personal and specific to my experience. Especially for a retrospective on a comedy that is, in my eyes, deeply underrated as a whole. But 2020 has been a peculiar year, to say the very least of it. I cherish the theatrical experience, which is something we have largely been robbed of this year. And it is hard to know what it is going to look like on the other side of this whole mess. For that reason, my experience watching The Other Guys in a crowded theater with my friends upon its initial release feels more fond to me now than it ever has. Specifically, because I simply cannot recall laughing harder at any one thing in a theater in my lifetime than I did at a particular joke in this movie.
Will Ferrell plays a buttoned-up, by-the-book detective named Allen Gamble in the movie. Mark Wahlberg, meanwhile, plays a fast-and-loose troublemaking cop named Terry Hoitz. The two become unlikely partners early on chasing a case and it's a classic odd couple scenario, put through Adam McKay's filter with a massive, blockbuster budget. Allen drives a Prius that he is quite fond of. Terry is not. Quite a few jokes are made about the vehicle early on. At one point, it is stolen from Allen while the two are chasing a lead, only to be recovered later. It is when Allen and Terry head to the station to inspect his recovered Prius that the moment in question hit me like a ton of bricks.
Officer Watts, played by Rob Huebel in a brief but memorable bit-part, explains to Allen and Terry what happened. The car was left under an overpass and, unfortunately for Allen, a group of homeless guys going by the name of Dirty Mike and the Boys decided to use the car as an, and I quote, "F shack." Allen is horrified to learn this and Watts proceeds to explain that this act actually has a name. A bunch of homeless men using a car for an orgy is called a "soup kitchen." Maybe it was the unexpected nature of it. Maybe it was the line delivery. Maybe it was all of it. But the second those words were uttered, I was a broken man.
I write for a living. I like to think I have a decent grasp of the English language. I like to read. I watch lots of movies. Music is an obsession for me. Language is important to me. All of this to say, I can't imagine a better combination of words used to describe anything in my life than soup kitchen in this very specific context. Utter perfection. Filthy perfection. The theater responded with a generous laugh. Me? I couldn't get myself together. Minutes later I was still struggling to catch my breath as the rest of the patrons at my local theater had long since moved on from it. It got to the point that my friends sitting next to me had to force me to compose myself. I missed a lot of jokes in the ensuing minutes as a result. Totally worth it.
Forget that a raccoon also gave birth in Allen's beloved Prius. Forget that a guy took a dump on the front seat. We can set aside that Dirty Mike and the Boys (with Dirty Mike played by Adam McKay himself) make a great cameo in a perfect callback later in the movie, vowing to once again use the Prius to have another stab at the same dirty deed. The Other Guys would be worth the price of admission for that one beautifully gross joke. It is, to this day, one of my favorite theatrical experiences.
To be clear, this is a movie that is loaded down with plenty of standout gags. Allen getting tricked into a "desk pop;" his shut-down argument with Terry about a lion fighting a tuna; Terry's obsession with non-existent drug dealers; Allen's inexplicable magnetism toward the opposite sex, and Terry's obsession with his partner's wife Sheila, played perfectly by Eva Mendes. And let's not forget when Allen unwittingly became a pimp named Gator. This is a richly satisfying comedy with two established leading men playing against type. Will Ferrell was, rather brilliantly, playing the straight man, something we were not used to at that time, and Mark Wahlberg impressively flexed his comedy muscles. It is also hard to argue against the genius of having Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock playing a couple of hero cops who end up killing themselves in a truly surprising moment early on in the movie. Not to mention Michael Keaton's tremendous turn as Captain Gene and his accidental obsession with TLC lyrics. There is a lot to love here. It's not all about the soup kitchen.
But even for those who don't agree. Even if those who have seen this movie merely chuckled at the line that shattered me. Even for those who haven't seen this movie, this is about a bigger point. There is something about that shared experience. I simply can't imagine having that same reaction were I watching The Other Guys alone in my room on a Saturday evening after paying a premium to rent it on VOD, only half paying attention as I check my phone. The theatrical experience afforded me that moment. While everyone is different, I am certain every lover of cinema has their own soup kitchen, as it were. Let's not allow that to die out.